BullyFreeBC is an advocacy and law reform agency operating to address problems of bullying and harassment in BC.
The group first formed in 2007, meeting in a Vancouver constituency office to discuss personal harassment in the workplace. The organizers came from different sectors and professions, but all had experienced bullying as a serious personal and professional problem – as an employer unable to resolve a situation between staff members engaged in mob warfare, as a co-worker who stood by helplessly and watched abuse happen repeatedly to a respected colleague, as a target who lost a career when the new boss used harassment to avoid paying severance. So those involved in the initial planning for BullyFreeBC already knew the damage that bullying and harassment can cause to individuals and workplaces.
The group widened the discussion and search for solutions at a 2008 symposium to consider how law reform might deal with this complex of problems. The participants looked at three options of where to put new coverage as a protection under law:
Employment Standards Act > … But the ESA does not cover enough people. It is designed to protect worker rights on statutory holiday pay and the number of hours of work in a day before overtime applies. There is no capacity in this legislation to deal with a toxic workplace or problems between employees.
Human Rights Code > … But the Code is not workplace specific, and it protects people from discrimination only on the grounds of group status. This is not the same as bullying which is personal harassment, targeted against an individual and not a member of a group.
Workers Compensation Act > … But the WCA only addresses injuries, not conduct and ethics at work. And the health and safety sector is not trained, equipped, or mandated to deal with problems of dysfunctional and potentially abusive relations between people at work.
In 2010 the BullyFreeBC Legislation Working Group carried on the symposium initiative and crafted a proposal for workplace bullying legislation. The proposed legislation addresses the various concerns and issues associated with the complex of problems for workers and workplaces dealing with bullying, and also allows for simultaneous changes to other affected laws and regulations as needed to harmonize with existing frameworks.
But in 2012, following on Saskatchewan and Ontario, BC passed Bill 14 to create coverage for workplace bullying and harassment under the Workers Compensation Act.
BullyFreeBC has been monitoring implementation of the coverage since then, and held a review session late in 2016 to assess the effects of the new legislation. While the discussion group found progress in awareness, participants from various workplace settings advised that adoption of anti-bullying measures was largely dependent on individual employer compliance and interest. The question of treating bullying and harassment as health and safety issues remains problematic. Of particular concern are the small business and non-profit workplaces, which provide most of the private sector employment opportunities in the province.
However, there is growing interest in revising and expanding protections for employees under the Employment Standards Act, so that standards for conduct in the workplace might be included.
As well, BC is re-introducing a Human Rights Commission (announcement), which could also offer expanded protections for workers dealing with personal harassment as a rights violation.
And BC passed a new Societies Act in 2016, coming into full force in 2019, requiring higher standards of workplace conduct and imposing real consequences for non-profits that do not fulfil their legal and fiduciary duties as employers.
BullyFreeBC continues to engage in discussion and law reform activities on all these concerns, while encouraging adoption of five recommendations, proposed in conjunction with the 2017 provincial election, to improve conditions generally in BC workplaces.