Addressing harassment in the workplace has become a growing issue for employers in the wake of both the #MeToo campaign as well as federal survey results showing two-fifths of harassment or violence complaints were not dealt with.

The federal government has proposed changes to the Canada Labour Code that would give federally regulated workers and their employers a clear framework for dealing with allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual violence in the workplace. 

In British Columbia, WorkSafeBC and the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal handle various complaints of bullying and harassment.

But employers sometimes look for outside help from workplace trainers to stop issues before they start, says Hugh Pelmore, president and CEO of ARETE Safety and Protection, an organization that provides workshops on approaching workplace violence, bullying, and harassment. 

Pelmore says the news coverage of harassment in the entertainment industry has caused more workplaces to opt for training on proper workplace conduct.

"These extreme events are far less frequent than the everyday stuff that happens in workplaces, but in the same time those less severe events, have a huge impact on employee stress levels," said Pelmore. 

Pelmore suggests some basic steps for all those involved in a case of bullying or harassment.

Victims

For victims, he suggests speaking up right away in a polite and professional manner and letting the other person know that you would like the behaviour to stop. Naming the behaviour and communicating its impact is also helpful, he says. 

"A reasonable person who is capable of crossing a line … will stop their behaviour when you ask them," Pelmore said. 

He says speaking with the person is dependant on the nature and severity of the incident though, and more serious conflicts should skip this step and instead involve a superior. 

Witnesses

Witnesses to the behaviour should willingly go over and volunteer to get involved following a conflict, offering to document it and keep it confidential, Pelmore said. 

Aggressors

Pelmore has a few simple rules for those people initiating conflict.

"Think before you speak or act. If you're not sure, don't go there. And, if you do cross the line, then apologize."

He adds the aggressor should communicate that they will not repeat the behaviour.

Employers 

Employers should have respectful workplace policies, procedures for employees to feel comfortable reporting behaviours, protocols to investigate complaints, and a process for possible consequences, Pelmore said. 

"There are cases where things happen very quickly, but the nature and severity oftentimes increases with inaction, and there's a number of reasons again why people struggle to speak up, but if we get involved quickly and set limits with somebody oftentimes the behaviour stops," Pelmore said.

He says what's really key is to give staff the motivation to speak up, get involved, and support others. 

With files from On the Coast