Understanding the Difference and Keeping Yourself Safe

Conflicts in the workplace are inevitable. However, there is a big difference between conflict and bullying or harassment. When discussing harmful workplace behaviour, bullying and harassment tend to be grouped under the same definition.

In reality, they are quite different in severity, their effect on others, and how they are handled. This article explains the differences between workplace bullying vs. harassment and offers tips on how to handle these difficult situations.

Read More: Getting to the Root of Workplace Conflict and How to Proactively Avoid It

Bullying vs. Harassment

Most times, workplace bullying can be characterized as an unwanted, recurring aggressiveness that causes psychological and physical harm, and creates a psychological power imbalance between the bully and targets.

Harassment, on the other hand, is unwelcome, intimidating, hostile or abusive behaviour. Acts of harassment usually centre around unwanted, offensive and intrusive behaviour with a sexual, racial or physical component. Harassment can be an ongoing work condition or a one-time event, and it interferes with an employee’s ability to work. It can also create a power imbalance and can make the victim extremely uncomfortable at work.

Types of bullying include:

  • Physical bullying: using physical force or aggression against another person
  • Verbal bullying: using words to verbally attack someone
  • Social bullying: hurting someone through purposeful exclusion or by spreading rumours
  • Cyberbullying: using media to threaten, embarrass, intimidate or damage someone’s reputation

Types of harassment include:

  • Personal harassment: any behaviour that creates an intimidating and offensive work environment for the victim
  • Physical harassment: involves physical attacks or threats
  • Power harassment: when the harasser exerts power over a victim who is lower in the office hierarchy. In many cases, this is a supervisor or manager.
  • Sexual harassment: harassment that is sexual in nature and generally includes unwanted sexual advances, conduct or behaviour.

Why discrimination is a form of harassment

Discrimination means treating someone differently or poorly based on certain characteristics or differences. Discrimination happens against groups of people who are protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

People can experience discrimination because of their:

  • Age
  • Race (skin colour, facial features)
  • Ethnicity (cultural customs, where and how they live, hair type and texture)
  • Religion (religious beliefs)
  • Sex and sexual orientation (examples include people who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual and transgender or transsexual)
  • Physical and mental disability (if they have a mental illness, learning disability, use a wheelchair, etc.)

How to handle bullying in the workplace

Here are a few practical tips to follow if you feel that you are being bullied, discriminated against, victimized or subjected to any form of harassment at your workplace:

  • Tell the person that their behaviour is not acceptable and ask them to stop. If you do not feel comfortable approaching the bully alone, ask a supervisor or union member to go with you.
  • Keep a factual journal or diary of daily events. Some things to record are:
    • The date, time and what happened in as much detail as possible.
    • The names of everyone involved.
    • The outcome of the event.
  • Report the harassment to the person identified in your workplace policy, your supervisor, or a delegated manager. If your concerns are minimized, proceed to the next level of management. Continue to work your way up until your concerns are heard and taken seriously.

And as difficult as it may be, try your best not to react or retaliate. It will only further complicate the situation and may work against you in the long run.

Read More: Promoting Psychological Safety in the Workplace

How to handle harassment in the workplace

Here are a few practical tips to follow if you feel that you are being bullied, discriminated against, victimized or subjected to any form of harassment at your workplace:

  • Similar to bullying in the workplace, be sure to document any inappropriate behaviour of harassment you have experienced at work. Be sure to include the date, times, names of everyone involved and the outcomes.
  • Determine if there’s an official policy regarding harassment. It should be included in your company’s employee manual. This policy may also have specific and tailored resources for you to use.
  • Report any instance of harassment immediately. Your employer must know or have reason to know about the harassment to be legally responsible, so it’s important you inform them of what’s going on.

An employer is required to prepare a workplace harassment policy under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Employers may choose to prepare a separate policy regarding workplace harassment, or they may combine it with the occupational health and safety policy [section 25(2)(j) of OHSA]. An employer may also choose to combine its workplace harassment policy with an anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy that addresses the protected grounds under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

Employees and employers can also refer to sections 25, 27 and 28 of the OHSA, which outline the workplace duties of the employer, supervisor and worker, respectively.

Read More: The Importance of Promoting Mental Health in the Workplace

When to call a mediator or investigator

You can use mediation at any point during a conflict, as long as all of those involved agree to do so.

Generally, mediation is best used when an incident first arises and is reported, as the longer a dispute goes on, the greater the chances that more issues can come up. As for investigation, a properly conducted workplace investigation can help to protect employees from harm and employers from potential liability, and ensure that all parties involved are heard in an efficient, neutral, and unbiased manner.

Global Mindful Solutions offers a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to workplace resolution. Whether it be investigation or mediation, we handle all sensitive situations with care, thoughtfulness, and discretion.

Read More: Effective Ways to Improve Workplace Morale

The Takeaway

Bullying, harassment and discrimination shouldn’t be tolerated in the workplace. If you feel you are the victim of either, be sure to document the incidents in detail and tell your supervisor right away. And if the problem persists, think about bringing in a mediator or investigator who can approach the situation in an unbiased, neutral, and effective manner.