Harassment and discrimination can occur in any workplace. Employers ought to be aware of these behaviours and take preventative or ameliorative to protect the well-being of their employees. Your typical bullying behaviour may not be considered discrimination or even harassment but can be just as problematic. What most of us simply label as “bullying” can in fact be the makings of a “toxic work environment”, which besides the very real and personal consequences, has legal implications as well.
To help avoid toxic work environments it is important to stop bullying before it starts or to address instances of bullying as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Ontario companies can take numerous steps to prevent bullying in the workplace, many of which are similar to those associated with harassment and discrimination.
First and foremost, the best thing a company can do to deal with bullying and toxic work environments is to establish company policies with clear prohibitions. Policies and procedures must include as much specificity as possible in order to avoid any confusion or miscommunication – since employers not only need to protect workers from bullying, but also need to make sure that those accused have a clear understanding of what it constitutes and the potential consequences. Such policies can also serve to fulfill a company’s obligations to its employees to protect them from a toxic work environment. This can further lessen a company’s potential exposure to liability.
Once policies and procedures are created, everyone in the organization needs to be made aware of them. Holding training sessions, disseminating the information, and requiring employees to acknowledge receipt and understanding of the information are all good and important practices. In addition, the information should be prominently displayed in areas where employees can readily see it.
Companies should focus on the above in order to avoid the development of a toxic work environment and to grow as employees and a company from any instances of bullying, but the reality is that there will always be wrongdoers. It will be important when these policies are violated that the company makes sure it responds to the victim bringing forth allegations. The more diligent a company is in handling these issues internally, to the satisfaction of the victim, the less likely it is that an employee will turn to the courts for a resolution and the company and its managers could be liable for the toxic work environment that they allowed to fester.
Consider talking to an employment lawyer to help your company create policies to protect your employees and avoid toxic work environments. This benefits employees and employers alike.