All Albertans deserve to be free from harassment

By Craig Coolahan, MLA for Calgary-Klein.

If you felt you were being bullied or harassed at your workplace, do you know if your employer has appropriate policies in place to ensure your safety and wellbeing?

While most Albertans would say yes, a number of them may not. That’s because currently, there is no legislation that recognizes bullying or psychological harassment in the workplace.

Currently, 50 per cent of businesses report a loss of morale and an increase in stress and depression due to workplace harassment.

This is a fact made even more troubling by how pervasive harassment and bullying is at work. A recent study showed 60 per cent of Alberta workers have been exposed to workplace harassment. Half of all victims of bullying or harassment will not report it to their company’s human resources department, and of those who do, 62 per cent say no action was taken on their complaint.

We can do better. Albertans deserve a workplace that is safe from physical harm and the psychological and emotional damage that workplace harassment inflicts on its victims.

I am very proud to have recently tabled private member Bill 208, the Occupational Health and Safety (Protecting Alberta Workers from Harassment) Amendment Act, aimed at protecting all Alberta employees from harassment at their place of work. A recent Human Resources Institute of Alberta survey revealed that while 70 per cent of Alberta businesses have such a policy in place, many don’t. The policies that are in place vary from business to business - there is no consistency. What may be deemed harassment at one company is not covered at another. Most alarmingly, it’s not mandatory to have a workplace harassment policy at all.

As such, complainants of workplace harassment seek assistance from their human resource departments, and in some cases, the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

Unfortunately, having only these two options to find a remedy for workplace harassment complaints does not ensure all Albertans protection or solutions. Some may find their complaints slipping through the cracks.

If your employer doesn’t have a harassment policy, the HR department is not sympathetic or trained in these matters, or your harassment doesn’t fall within the areas recognized in the Human Rights Act, then you have little recourse.

This bill mandates that all employers have a harassment policy in place, and it allows for complaints to be filed with an occupational health and safety officer if a complaint cannot first be resolved through an internal investigation.

If there is no resolution, then a complaint would be filed with occupational health and safety and a second investigation started. These officers report on their findings and can enforce measures to ensure a remedy to the complaint and a return to a safe workplace for the complainant.

In consultations with Alberta businesses of all sizes, victims, labour organizations and pertinent non-profit and professional organizations, including the Human Resources Institute of Alberta and the Psychologists Association of Alberta, there is clear support for providing all Albertans with a safe, harassment-free work environment. This legislation is intended to be preventive and not punitive. It’s about protecting all Albertans. It’s about ensuring that all employers and employees are familiar with what harassment is and what it is not, through the use of a robust harassment policy and training.

For businesses, having a harassment policy in place will improve their bottom line. Currently, 50 per cent of businesses report a loss of morale and an increase in stress and depression due to workplace harassment. With a strong harassment policy in place, companies will see an increase in employee satisfaction, less stress leave, less sick leave, less employee turnover and an overall improvement in productivity.

The ability for someone with a harassment complaint to fall through the cracks has not gone unnoticed in other jurisdictions. British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario recognize workplace bullying and psychological harassment in their legislation.

It’s now time for Alberta to give the same protections to all its workers. I’m thrilled to be able to listen to Albertans and support them with this important legislation.

First published in the Calgary Herald Nov. 16, 2016.