Defining and Identifying Workplace Bullying

Dr. Barbara Roberts (WorkLife Office) and Dr. Shannon Lynn Burton (University Ombudsperson) answer questions about defining and identifying workplace bullying in this webinar.  After watching this webinar, feel free to send any comments or questions to

Click here to view the PowerPoint slide deck (Requires MSU NetID)

Click here to utilize the Workplace Conflict Resource Map

Michigan State University has several policies and statements in place that address workplace bullying.  We are seeking to establish a universal definition.  In the meantime, check out these sources to guide you.

Glossary of Terms

360 review – A 360 review is a performance appraisal process that gathers input from a number of an employee’s peers and subordinates as well as the employee’s supervisor. Each of these evaluators completes an anonymous questionnaire rating a number of areas of the employee’s performance. A summary report is produced, which is then discussed by the employee and supervisor, and incorporated in the development of a performance improvement plan. Adapted from the San Francisco Chronicle, 

Abuse – Abusive behavior humiliates, degrades, or shows disrespect for the dignity and worth of another person. (Alberta Association of Registered Nurses, cited by ILO, 2002) 

Abuse of authority – Abuse of authority happens when someone misuses their power and authority to threaten someone’s livelihood, put someone’s job at risk, make it unnecessarily difficult to do that job, or interfere in any way interfere with someone’s career. It includes intimidation, threats, blackmail, or coercion. Such behavior serves no good purpose. A reasonable person would be expected to realize that it’s inappropriate. Adapted from the Harassment in the Workplace Policy – New Brunswick Public Service 

Advisory committee – An advisory committee is usually made up of people outside the organization who provide advice on matters of policy, management, program development, or other specifics. They may perceive impacts of an organization’s actions in relation to their own domain and may inform decision making from their perspective. An advisory committee is often an ongoing group. 

Alternative dispute resolution/restorative justice – Alternative dispute resolution is a process undertaken, outside of the formal court system, to bring the parties in a dispute together to face one another. The intent is for them to work out their differences with the help of a structured process and a trained mediator. It can take a variety of forms ranging from mediation to talking circles, corporate circles, or community conferencing (where all of the parties who have been impacted by the conflict, and sometimes representatives of the larger community of interest, are present at the table to participate.) 

Appropriate information sharing – Appropriate information sharing involves determining what can be told to others considering the limits of confidentiality. It is an important aspect of postvention when a negative workplace event has occurred. Employees need to be reassured about what action has been taken, and that they have an opportunity to express any lingering concerns that they wish to see addressed. 

Assault – Assault is any behavior that makes someone fear for their safety, whether or not a physical or psychological injury actually occurs. Examples of assault include: Kicking, hitting, biting, grabbing, pinching, scratching, or spitting Using an object, such as a chair, cane, or sharps container, or weapon, such as a knife, gun, or blunt instrument, to injure or threaten someone. Verbal hostility and abuse. Adapted from WorkSafe BC, 2000. 

Code of conduct – A code of conduct is a document developed to let employees know what behavior is expected of them within a workplace and what behavior is unacceptable. It may also inform employees about the range consequences for inappropriate behavior 

Confidentiality rules – Confidentiality rules describe what kinds of information can be held private, and what kinds of information must be reported and to whom. Limitations to confidentiality need to be considered in relation to threat assessment, duty to warn, debriefing, and post-vention. 

Constructive dismissal – Constructive dismissal is the term for a situation in which an employer makes working conditions so awful that an employee feels they have no choice but to quit. Examples include: removing all the enjoyable parts of the job, overloading a worker with unreasonable responsibilities or removing all responsibilities, forcing an employee always to work difficult shift rotations, assigning an employee to an unpleasant, uncomfortable, or unhealthy work space, or assigning humiliating tasks. The employer may also cut back work hours or wages, or change the employee’s job title. All of these things are done without employee consent or agreement. Adapted from Human Resources and Social Development Canada Website: 

Corporate circles – A corporate circle is a process which brings together those affected by a work situation in order to engage in group problem solving. It can be useful in situations of bullying or harassment, abuse of power, ongoing disputes, discrimination, general mistreatment, slow simmering conflict, or damaged work relations. It is appropriate only when the group is ready to have an honest conversation aimed at transforming the conflict. In a corporate circle, everyone affected by the conflict helps to diagnose and solve the problem. People disclose the hidden causes of conflict. It’s safe to talk about emotions. Participants learn how to resolve future conflict. As preparation, a facilitator conducts individual interviews (roughly an hour long) with each of the people involved in the situation. Then selected participants come together for a group session. They sit facing each other. Each participant is invited to speak openly and candidly about: What has happened; How it has affected them; and What they would like to see happen in the future. The process allows the group to work together to: Figure out the hidden causes; Come to a shared understanding about what happened; and Create a solution. A corporate circle process is a good choice when people have been punished for behaving badly, but continue to behave in the same way afterward. People are more likely to change their ways when they understand how their behavior has affected others. Having a chance to repair the hurt they’ve caused makes them more hopeful about the future. When people have helped to come up with a solution, they’re more likely to follow through with it. [Adapted from Fitzgerald, M. F. (2006). Corporate circles: Transforming conflict and building trusting teams. Vancouver, BC: Quinn Publishing. See also] 

Co-worker harassment – Co-worker harassment is a situation involving a harassment allegation between two members of the same union. By law, unions have a legal duty to provide fair representation to everyone in the bargaining unit. In a case of co-worker harassment, the union must represent the target, but it may also be asked to represent the alleged harasser. Unions have to make sure that the process is fair to both co-workers. In some cases, the union may be able to resolve the problem informally, but in doing so, it can’t allow anyone’s rights to be compromised. In more serious cases, the employer is usually involved. (Adapted from Equality Branch, CUPE, Stop harassment: A guide for CUPE locals) 

Critical incident – A critical incident is a workplace event — such as an accident, injury, fatality, or robbery — that causes emotional or psychological trauma in people exposed to the incident directly, or even indirectly. It is a sudden, powerful event outside the range of normal experience — and outside workers’ control. A critical incident will often overwhelm a worker’s ability to function in a normal way by causing strong emotional reactions. (WorkSafe BC ) 

Critical incident stress – Critical incident stress is a normal emotional and physiological reaction to a stressful or abnormal situation. Some common reactions to a highly stressful event are: Feeling jumpy, anxious, moody, or irritable Having difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or thinking clearly Having trouble going near the accident scene or to places that trigger memories of the accident oar incident Having trouble being around people Having difficulty being alone (WorkSafe BC ) 

Critical incident debriefing (CID) or critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) – Critical incident debriefing or critical incident stress debriefing is an individual or group process in which one or more service providers help the affected worker(s) cope with the continuing effects of a traumatic incident. A CISD should occur within 24 to 72 hours after the event. Participation is voluntary. The purpose of the debriefing is to alleviate the trauma of affected workers and speed up their recovery process. Debriefing focuses on the well-being of the workers; it does not attempt to find the cause of the incident or assign blame. The intent of the debriefing is to address and respond to the emotional and psychological consequences resulting specifically from the workplace incident. Debriefings should be led by trained, qualified professionals who can guide strong emotions such as guilt, sadness, or anger that workers may be experiencing. Defusing and debriefing sessions are not therapy and are not a substitute for therapy. Individuals requiring further support should be directed to a mental health professional. (Adapted from WorkSafe BC – 

Virtual HarassmentCyberbullying – Cyberbullying is a new form of bullying and harassment of workplace colleagues that involves the use of technology. It can take place via cell phone, e-mail, text messaging, instant messaging, Web 2.0 sites, blogs, chatrooms, Websites, and virtual social space (FaceBookMySpace, YouTube, etc.) The basic rule is this: if the behavior would be inappropriate face-to-face, then it’s equally inappropriate online. (Adapted from Bullying: Tackling tormentors,, December 20, 2007) 

Michigan State University’s Prevention, Outreach and Education Department is partnering with voices across campus in a new video series and social media campaign called #SpartanSpaces.  The campaign is targeted toward students, faculty and staff in an effort to raise awareness of virtual harassment, empower bystanders to intervene if they see someone harassing another person in online spaces and share resources that are available to those who have been impacted by harassment.  Follow @KnowMoreMSU and use the hashtag #SpartanSpaces to join the conversation.

Cyberharassment and cyberstalking – Cyberstalking and cyberharassment are similar abusive behaviors. Most people use these terms interchangeably, but there is a subtle distinction, typically relating to the perpetrator’s intent and the original motivation for their behavior. While the two situations usually involve many of the same online tactics, cyberstalking is almost always characterized by the stalker relentlessly pursuing a victim online and is much more likely to include some form of offline attack, as well. This offline aspect makes it a more serious situation as it can easily lead to dangerous physical contact if the victim’s location is known. [Adapted from Parry Aftab, cited in Information Week – August 23, 2004,] 

Cyberterrorism – Cyberterrorism can be defined as the use of information technology by terrorist groups and individuals to further their agenda. This can include use of information technology to organize and execute attacks against networks, computer systems and telecommunications infrastructures, or for exchanging information or making threats electronically. Examples are hacking into computer systems, introducing viruses to vulnerable networks, web site defacing, denial-of-service attacks, or terroristic threats made via electronic communication.[National Conference of State Legislatures –] 

Debriefing – Debriefing is a process of talking with workers who have experienced a negative event to attempt to assist them for a variety of purposes, such as to alleviate stress related to a recent workplace incident, to review what went wrong and to determine how to prevent a recurrence, or to rebuild trust and repair damaged workplace relationships. 

Discrimination – Discrimination means treating people in a negative or hurtful way because they are different. The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on these established grounds: race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, pregnancy and childbearing, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability or a pardoned criminal conviction. (Canadian Human Rights Commission: The Human Rights Act of New Brunswick currently protects against discrimination and harassment based on: age, marital status, religion, physical disability (including HIV\AIDS), mental disability, race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, national origin, social condition, political belief or activity, sexual orientation, and sex (including pregnancy). (New Brunswick Human Rights Commission: 

Discriminatory practices – According to the Canadian Human Rights Act, it is discrimination to: treat someone differently for any of the reasons noted above; harass anyone for any reason; set up a policy or practice that places a group of people at a disadvantage; and retaliate against someone. Here are some examples: A person cannot be denied a job because of a disability that does not affect job performance or for which reasonable adjustment can be made. In employment applications and advertisements , federally regulated employers cannot include requirements that are not clearly related to the job, such as previous Canadian experience. A job performed mostly by women cannot be paid less than a job of equal value done mostly by men. Examples of jobs that might be of equal value are nursing assistants and electricians, or secretaries and maintenance staff. Where unions have a monopoly on referring job applicants to employers, it is discriminatory for them to exclude candidates from designated groups. A bank cannot ask a married woman for her spouse’s signature when she is applying for a loan. An individual unable to work certain days for religious reasons may not be denied employment unless the employer can demonstrate that it would cause undue hardship. A poster that encourages discrimination is illegal. Internet and pre-recorded telephone hate messages are forbidden. No one is allowed to make demeaning comments because of someone’s colour, ethnic origin, age, disability, sex or any of the other prohibited grounds. An employer cannot fire an employee because he or she has filed a human rights complaint. It is also a criminal offence to threaten, intimidate or discriminate against a person who files a complaint or a person who serves as a witness. (Adapted from Canadian Human Rights Commission: 

Diversity competency or cultural competency – Diversity competency or cultural competency refers to the insights and skills needed to communicate effectively across cultural diversity and other forms of difference. These would include, for example, awareness of culturally based assumptions about eye contact, social distance, taboo topics of conversation, and attitudes towards time, and factors to be sensitive to in interacting with a person who is visually or hearing impaired or a person who is economically disadvantaged. 

Duty of care – Duty of care sets out expectations that every employer must take every reasonable precaution to avoid injury to any person or their property. This includes employees, people providing contracted services, volunteers, clients, patients, students, and members of the general public. Any unintentional but careless act which results in injury or loss is considered to be negligent, and fails to meet the requirement of duty of care. (Adapted from Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) Legal Information Service 

Duty to accommodate – Duty to accommodate is the obligation to meaningfully incorporate diversity into the workplace. The duty to accommodate involves eliminating or changing rules, policies, practices and behaviors that discriminate against persons based on a group characteristic, such as race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, marital status, family status and disability. Sometimes, workplaces have rules, policies, practices and behaviors that apply equally to everyone, but that can create barriers based on a group characteristic. For example, if an employer requires that employees wear a certain uniform, this may create a barrier to someone whose religious practice requires a certain manner of dress. The duty to accommodate requires employers to identify and eliminate rules that have a discriminatory impact. Accommodation means changing the rule or practice to incorporate alternative arrangements that eliminate the discriminatory barriers. (Canadian Human Rights Commission 

Duty to warn – Duty to warn is a legal concept that expresses the idea that, if people have not been told about serious or hidden dangers and get hurt, those who knew about the dangers can be held responsible, either civilly or criminally. An evaluation of possible violence in the workplace will require a discussion of who needs to be informed under the duty-to-warn concept and what they need to be told. Actual victims or directly named potential victims are the centermost circle. Members of the immediate, physical workgroup on the same floor or in the same building as the victims are in the next circle. Any employees on the same corporate work site are in the next circle. Finally, all employees in the entire company are in the last circle. Depending on the level of risk, visitors to the work site, such as customers, vendors, or subcontractors may need to be considered as part of this process as well. The higher the assessed probability of physical harm, the more important the need to consider notification. The important issues with duty to warn are privacy, confidentiality and defamation, and recognizing that the duty to warn needs to be balanced with the reality that information can increase anxiety in the workplace. Misjudging the balance point may cause more harm, in some cases physical harm, than not saying anything at all. This concept is embedded in every workplace violence-related case. The employer must provide identified victims with information that will allow them to take measures to protect their own safety. [Adapted from Corcoran, M.H. and Cawood, J. S. (2003). Violence assessment and intervention: The practitioner’s handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, pp. 201-202)] 

Facilitated discussion – Facilitated discussion is a structured dialogue process led by a person skilled in group processes and dialogue techniques. It can be used at various stages in a conflict to allow for information sharing, clarification, mutual understanding, and rebuilding of working relationships. 

Harassment – Harassment is any unwanted physical or verbal conduct that offends or humiliates a person, or interferes with ability to do a job or obtain a service. Harassing behaviors include such things as: berating someone in front of others making fun of someone’s accent blocking someone’s career advancement withholding information & resources deliberately encouraging inappropriate attire sexist, racist, & homophobic remarks or graphics unpredictable, explosive outbursts inflammatory remarks in e-mail or blogs tampering with someone’s work station imposing unsafe working conditions setting impossible deadlines & expectations hiding someone’s personal belongings constantly changing performance evalution criteria taking credit for someone else’s ideas rudeness & abusive language scapegoating, unfairly blaming micromanaging & constant fault-finding withholding formative feedback abusing personal information discrediting someone’s skills & qualification hounding staff outside of office hours spreading rumours, gossip & innuendo threats & intimidation blatant favouritism unnecessarily harsh & hurtful feedback ridiculing or destroying someone’s work undermining professional or personal reputation taking away a worker’s responsibilities without cause underwork, making someone feel useless scapegoating & constant fault-finding blocking applications for training, leave, or promotion hounding staff outside of office hours rumours, gossip & innuendo threats & intimidation unwelcome comments on personal appearance Harassment can consist of a single incident or several incidents over a period of time. Harassment can create a negative or hostile work environment which can interfere with a person’s job performance and result in being refused a job, a promotion or a training opportunity. The harasser, who could be of the same or opposite sex as the person harassed, may be a supervisor, a co-worker, or someone providing a service, such as a bank officer or a clerk in a government department. If a reasonable person ought to have known that the behavior was unwelcome, then it is considered to be harassment. (Adapted from the Canadian Human Rights Commission: 

In good faith – In good faith is a term which expresses the intention of all parties involved in a dispute resolution process to participate, motivated by a sincere wish to resolve the matter and a willingness to make a sincere effort to find common ground. Mediators must ensure this intent prior to initiating an alternative dispute resolution process. 

Just cause – Just cause is described as very serious conduct that can be considered grounds for dismissal. It can include theft, serious dishonesty, sexual harassment, conflict of interest and other types of highly inappropriate conduct. It is very difficult in Canada to successfully prove just cause. If an employer’s claim of just cause is disproven, then they may have to pay extra wrongful dismissal damages for making allegations in bad faith. 

Layperson’s introduction to New Brunswick’s legal information sources and lawyers’ Websites – 

Legal aid in New Brunswick – Civil legal aid in New Brunswick was replaced in 1988 with Domestic Legal Aid, which is available only to victims of domestic violence. 

New Brunswick Courts Website – 

Legal Aid New Brunswick, Saint John – Duty Counsel lawyers at Provincial Court in Sussex, Hampton, Saint John and St. Stephen in both adult and youth courts 

Legal aid information for the general public – Law Society of New Brunswick – 

Legal Aid contact information: – 

Legal glossary of terms – Found on New Brunswick Courts Website – 

Mentoring or buddy program – A mentoring or buddy program is a workplace program which is designed to help orient and support new employees by matching them with more experienced employees who have been selected to serve as role models and guides. 

Mobbing – Mobbing describes a situation in which a target is selected and bullied by a group of people rather than by one individual. Whether such behavior is organized, encouraged by a ringleader, or occurs by chance, the target is left with nowhere to turn for support. (Adapted from The Tim Field Foundation, Bully OnLine: ) Note: In parts of Europe, the term mobbing is often used interchangeably with the word bullying. 

Personal diminishment – Personal diminishment is a term that describes being made to feel worthless, unwelcome, incompetent, ashamed, or unsafe. (Adapted from Joe Fris, Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta) 

Personal harassment – Personal harassment includes objectionable or offensive conduct, comments, or gestures that demean, belittle, humiliate, or embarrass their target. Any reasonable person would recognize that such behavior is unwelcome. It may occur once or on an ongoing basis. (Adapted from the Harassment in the Workplace Policy – New Brunswick Public Service) 

Physical violence – Physical violence is the use of physical force that results in physical, sexual, or psychological harm to another or to another’s property. In includes, among other things, beating, kicking, slapping, stabbing, shooting, pushing, biting, and pinching. (Adapted from WHO definition of violence) 

Poisoned work environment/Toxic workplace – A poisoned work environment is one in which sexual, racial or religious insults or jokes, abusive treatment of an employee, graffiti, the display of pornographic or other offensive material, and other hostile behaviors occur. The outcome is a workplace where many people feel uncomfortable, uneasy, or unsafe. The behaviors may be generalized and not necessarily directed at anyone in particular. (Adapted from the Harassment in the Workplace Policy – New Brunswick Public Service – ) 

Postvention – Postvention includes debriefing processes and a range of support services that are provided to employees following a negative workplace event. 

Presenteeism – “Presenteeism” refers to workers who are physically in the workplace but whose minds are elsewhere. This state of mind can contribute to accidents and errors. When people are feeling bullied and harassed, it can be very difficult to concentrate on the job at hand. 

Progressive discipline – Progressive discipline is a process for dealing with job-related behavior that does not meet expected and communicated performance standards. The primary purpose for progressive discipline is to assist the employee to understand that a performance problem or opportunity for improvement exists. 

The process features increasingly formal efforts to provide feedback to employees so they can correct the problem. The goal of progressive discipline is to improve employee performance. 

The process of progressive discipline is not intended as a punishment for an employee, but to assist the employee to overcome performance problems and satisfy job expectations. Progressive discipline is most successful when it assists an individual to become an effectively performing member of the organization. 

Failing that, progressive discipline enables the organization to fairly, and with substantial documentation, terminate the employment of employees who are ineffective and unwilling to improve. (Adapted from 

Psychological harassment/ Psychological violence – Psychological harassment is repeated, vexatious, hostile, or unwanted conduct (comments, actions, or gestures) that undermines an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical well-being. Examples include isolating and silencing the target, publicly criticizing a person’s work, refusing to talk to a person, subjecting another to ridicule, giving humiliating or impossible tasks, treating another as if s/he didn’t exist, and creating a war of nerves. Psychological harassment is recognized in the province of Quebec under labour code legislation introduced on June 1, 2004. Saskatchewan has added similar provisions within its occupational health and safety legislation. 

(Adapted from Michel Gélinas, “Psychological Harassment in the Workplace: See to it Before June 1st, 2004…” in In Fact and In Law, Lavery, DeBilly Barristers and Solicitors) 

Psychological violence is the intentional use of power, including threat or physical force, against another person or group that can result in harm to physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. It includes verbal abuse, bullying/mobbing, harassment and threats. (Adapted from WHO definition of violence, ) 

It is increasingly recognized that personal psychological violence is often perpetrated through repeated behavior, of a type which by itself may be relatively minor but which 

cumulatively can become a very serious form of violence. Although a single incident can suffice, psychological violence often consists of repeated, unwelcome, unreciprocated and imposed words or action which may have a devastating effect on the target. (ILO 2002, p. 3, 

Reasonable accommodation – Reasonable accommodation is the requirement for an employer to identify and correct workplace conditions which create a discriminatory barrier. It may mean physical changes to the work space or equipment, or adaptation of rules, policies, or procedures. Employers and service providers are expected to exhaust all reasonable possibilities for accommodation before they can claim that it presents undue hardship. 

Return-to-work planning – Return-to-work planning is the development of strategies that are aimed at re-integrating an absent employee back into the work unit. When an employee has been on leave for medical, stress-related, or disciplinary reasons, careful planning will help to smooth their transition back to the workplace. The employee, management, the employee’s health care provider, and the parties to any disciplinary action should be involved in planning for the return to work. Any changes to work hours, duties, workload, performance expectations, or reporting relationships should be discussed. A process should be developed for monitoring the return-to-work and reviewing or revising the return-to-work plan as needed. 

Risk management – Risk management is the process of identifying and reducing or eliminating risks to an organization’s property, interests and employees, minimizing and containing the costs and consequences in the event of harmful or damaging incidents arising from those risks, and providing for adequate and timely compensation, restoration and recovery. 

Adapted from Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat 

Sexual harassment – Sexual harassment means any unwanted and unwelcome conduct, comment, gesture or contact of a sexual nature, whether on a one-time basis or a series of incidents, 

  1. that might reasonably be expected to cause offence or humiliation; or
  2. that might reasonably be perceived as placing a condition of a sexual nature on employment, an opportunity for training or promotion, receipt of services or a contract.

(Adapted from the Harassment in the Workplace Policy – New Brunswick Public Service) 

Steering committee – A steering committee is usually made up of people within an organizational who help to invite organizational investment in an issue. Their involvement is most significant at the beginning with new initiatives or projects and diminishes as the project moves through its initial implementation cycle. When the project is over, the group is disbanded. 

Target or victim – A target or victim is any person who is made the object of workplace bullying, harassment, abuse, intimidation, threats, or physical, sexual, or psychological violence. 

Threat assessment – Threat assessment is the process of analyzing the level of danger posed by a given situation, and assessing the most appropriate form of response. 

Threats or intimidation – Threats and intimidation include any form of communication that indicates an intent to injure and gives a worker reasonable cause to believe that there is a risk of harm. This includes threats against a worker’s family or personal property. Examples of threats include: 

  • Threats (direct or indirect) delivered in person or through written communication, phone calls, VoiceMail, or e-mail) 
  • Intimidating or frightening gestures such as shaking fists at another person, pounding a desk or computer, punching a wall, angrily jumping up and down, or screaming 
  • Throwing or striking objects 
  • Wielding a weapon, or carrying a concealed weapon for the purpose of threatening or injuring a person 
  • Not controlling a dog menacing (for example, growling at) a worker (Adapted from WorkSafe BC, 2000) 

Undue hardship – Undue hardship describes the point beyond which reasonable accommodation cannot be made. There is no formula for deciding what costs represent undue hardship and there is no precise definition of “undue hardship.” Employers and service providers are expected to exhaust all reasonable possibilities for accommodation before they can claim undue hardship. 

Undue hardship exists when “accommodation of the needs of an individual or a class of individuals affected would impose undue hardship on the person who would have to accommodate those needs, considering health, safety and cost.” 

All three of these factors—health, safety and cost—should be considered when determining if an accommodation creates an undue hardship. 

It is not enough to offer subjective assumptions or impressionistic evidence about what is or is not possible, nor can one simply say, “It costs too much to accommodate” or “Accommodation would present health and safety concerns.” To prove undue hardship, you have to provide evidence. 

The Supreme Court has listed other factors that may also be considered: 

  • the type of work performed, 
  • the size of the workforce, 
  • the interchangeability of job duties, 
  • financial ability to accommodate, 
  • the impact on a collective agreement, and 
  • impact on employee morale. 

These factors will vary from case to case, as will the importance of each factor. Canadian Human Rights Commission 

Virtual Harassment – Virtual harassment is the willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of electronic tools. To learn more about virtual harassment, visit

Whistleblowing – Whistleblowing is the process of informing someone outside the organization of an unacceptable situation within a workplace. People blow the whistle on their firm precisely because they cannot solve, or even report, serious problems inside its doors. It is their last resort, not their first choice. Only after one has failed to have a problem addressed within the organization does whistleblowing become an option. Given the career risk, anonymity is often necessary. The aim is not to make a name for oneself, or to pursue a personal vendetta or pet crusade, or even to blame anyone. The aim is to report the problem and get it solved. (Adapted from Di Norcia, V. (1998). Hard like water: Ethics in business. Toronto: Oxford University Press, p. 63) 

Whistleblower protection – Whistleblower protection is legislation that prohibits employers from taking specific employment actions against someone who reports an unacceptable workplace situation to a source outside the organization. In New Brunswick, whistleblowers are protected by the Employment Standards Act. Employers are not allowed to dismiss, suspend, lay off, or otherwise penalize an employee for whistleblowing. 

Adapted from the Human Resources and Social Development Canada Website 

Workplace – The workplace includes but is not limited to the physical work site, washrooms, cafeterias, training sessions, business travel, conferences, work related social gatherings, the employee’s or client’s home or worksite, and travel to and from home to a place of work. Adapted from Harassment in the Workplace Policy – New Brunswick Public Service 

Workplace bullying – Workplace bullying encompasses both intentional and unwitting behaviors (words, gestures, images, actions, and failure to act) which, over time, humiliate, demoralize, or terrorize an employee or group of employees, undermine their targets’ credibility and effectiveness, and contribute to a disrespectful or hostile work environment. (Research Team on Workplace Violence and Abuse, Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research, University of New Brunswick) 

Workplace culture/climate – Workplace culture/climate refers to the atmosphere and created environment within an organization. Many organizations have statements of vision, mission, values, and guiding principles that are intended to describe the workplace culture. These documents must be widely available, understood by employees and put into daily practice. Some of the more subtle elements include: 

  • the tone of the workplace (formal or informal, competitive or collaborative, welcoming or unfriendly, supportive or hostile) 
  • its unwritten rules (“how we really do things here”) 
  • levels of trust and respect 
  • how people treat one another 
  • how valued and accepted people feel 
  • how the organization handles mistakes, conflict, and negative workplace events 
  • how engaged employees feel in their work and in the organization 
  • how actively employee feedback, suggestions, and ideas are encouraged 
  • employee job satisfaction 
  • investment in people’s learning and development 
  • loyalty, commitment, and sustainability planning 

Workplace incivility – Workplace incivility is subtle, rude or disrespectful behavior that demonstrates lack of regard for other people. Adapted from Envisionworks, Inc. What is workplace incivility? 

Some common examples of uncivil behavior include: habitually interrupting when others are speaking, eye-rolling, not paying attention when others are speaking, not responding to messages that require a reply, condescension, not sharing credit for collaborative work, asking for input and then ignoring it or discounting it, overruling decisions without direct discussion and rationale, keeping others waiting unnecessarily for essential information or resources, habitually arriving late to meetings, standing impatiently over someone while waiting for undivided attention, disruptive or inappropriate behavior at meetings, using up supplies or breaking equipment without notifying anyone. Incivility is largely in the eye of the beholder. It may also be unintentional. It is always wise to begin by exploring the cause of the behavior. (Adapted from Advance for Healthcare Careers) 

Workplace safety – Workplace safety has traditionally focused on the prevention of accidents, injuries, and fatalities – the physical side of safety — but it now encompasses psychological and emotional safety at work, as well. 

Wrongful dismissal – Wrongful dismissal describes a situation in which an employer dismisses, fires, lays off or restructures someone out of a job without reasonable notice or proper compensation. There are some important exceptions: Employees let go for just cause cannot claim wrongful dismissal. Employees hired for a fixed-term contract cannot claim wrongful dismissal at the end of the contract period. Employees in unionized workplaces cannot sue employers for wrongful dismissal; instead, they can file a grievance if they have been unfairly dismissed. Often, the union may be able to help employees get their jobs back. If the union unfairly refuses to provide proper assistance, employees may be able to file an unfair representation complaint with the appropriate provincial or federal labour relations board. Adapted from: 

Sources: Human Resources – 

Advance for Healthcare Careers – 

Canadian Human Rights Commission – 

Corcoran, M.H. and Cawood, J. S. (2003). Violence assessment and intervention: The practitioner’s handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. 

Envisionworks, Inc. What is workplace incivility? – 

Equality Branch, CUPE, Stop harassment: A guide for CUPE locals 

Fitzgerald, M. F. (2006). Corporate circles: Transforming conflict and building trusting teams. Vancouver, BC: Quinn Publishing. 

Harassment in the Workplace Policy, New Brunswick Public Service – 

Human Resources and Social Development Canada Website 

International Labour Office, International Council of Nurses, World Health Organization, Public Services International (2002). 

Framework guidelines for addressing workplace violence in the health sector. Geneva: International Labour Office. ( ) 

JICS Legal Information Service – 

Gélinas, Michel, “Psychological Harassment in the Workplace: See to it Before June 1st, 2004…” in In Fact and In Law, Lavery, DeBilly Barristers and Solicitors – 

New Brunswick Human Rights Commission – 

New Brunswick Public Service, Harassment in the Workplace Policy – 

Research Team on Workplace Violence and Abuse, Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research, University of New Brunswick – 

The Tim Field Foundation, Bully OnLine – 

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat – 

WorkSafe BC, 2000, Preventing violence in health care: Five steps to an effective program. Workers’ Compensation Board of British Columbia – 

(WorkSafe BC – Coping with critical incident stress at work – 

World Health Organization (WHO) –

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