What Qualifies as Workplace Bullying?

We receive many questions about what falls under the definition of workplace psychological harassment/workplace bullying. This is especially relevant when laws are proposed or passed that specifically make psychological harassment/workplace bullying illegal. As such, we’ve received questions regarding Section 32 of the Ontario Occupational Health & Safety Act (Bill 168 amendments).

I briefly address this concern here in a broad manner. However, please note that CPI is an international training organization with extensive expertise in various aspects of problematic workplace behavior, including workplace bullying. As such, we are not in a position to offer legal or employment advice. None of my statements should be construed to be either legal or employment advice.

People can experience many types of negative behavior at work. Behaviors range from disrespect to harassment, mobbing, discrimination, incivility, bullying, horizontal and lateral violence, and emotional abuse.

CPI subject matter experts studied this problem in depth when developing training and resources for addressing the problem of workplace psychological harassment/bullying. We relied first on our experience, which spans over thirty years, in providing training worldwide on problematic workplace behavior. Additionally, when further refining our training and resources, we consulted credible research conducted by other international experts.

Workplace psychological harassment/bullying involves highly sensitive, complicated, and controversial factors. It is difficult to even define workplace psychological harassment/bullying unless the behavior is part of other legislatively addressed concerns such as harassment, discrimination, and intimidation. There is tremendous disagreement internationally among experts on a specific definition.

Section 32 of the Ontario Occupational Health & Safety Act (Bill 168 amendments) defines employer responsibilities regarding the prevention and response to workplace violence, psychological harassment, and domestic violence. CPI’s webinar on these amendments provides information on specific provisions of the legislation. Additional information is available on the Ontario Ministry of Labour website.

Our training extensively explores the kinds of behaviors that fall under CPI’s definition of workplace bullying. It is important to note that some of these behaviors may be related more to what we don’t do, rather than to specific behaviours in which we do engage. Examples include ongoing behaviors such as:

  • Withholding essential information.
  • Failing to invite someone to an essential meeting.
  • Ignoring a coworker.
  • Engaging in ongoing passive-aggressive behavior in which words and actions appear harmless but have the intent to harm or control.
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“In any kind of crisis, simple and clear guidelines for directing our decisions and actions work best.”