Bullying 101 - What you need to know

A person in a position of authority and trust breaks the rules and crosses the boundary.  She is afraid of what might happen if she stays and what might happen if she flees.  She feels trapped. It's fight or flight. She looks for a way out, but the door is closed. She must fight. Regardless of the outcome of this situation, the damage is done. No apology or any amount of money can make the memory of this horrible moment pass. Only time. 

Bullying and harassment is a well documented concern.  We see it in schools and we in the workplace.  With all this attention, you would think we would be seeing some progress. But not so, according to sources. 

Public Safety Canada 

Bullying is characterized by acts of intentional harm, repeated over-time, in a relationship where an imbalance of power exists. It includes physical actions (punching, kicking, biting), verbal actions (threats, name calling, insults, racial or sexual comments), and social exclusion1 (spreading rumours, ignoring, gossiping, excluding) (Pepler & Craig, 2000; Ma, Stewin & Mah, 2001). 

In school, boys tend to be more likely to bully and be bullied, usually in the form of a physical attack and exhibition of aggressive behaviour. Alternatively, girls appear to be more prone to indirect bullying in the form of social isolation, slandering and the spreading of rumours (Marcel T. Van der Wal, et al., 2003).

In the workplacebullying is when one or a group of people single out another person for unreasonable, embarrassing or intimidating treatment.

Usually the bully is a person in a position of authority who feels threatened by the victim, but in some cases the bully is a co-worker who is insecure or immature.

Workplace bullying can be the result of an single individual acting as a bully or of a company culture that allows or even encourages this kind of negative behavior." 

What bullying can look like:

  • Shouting or swearing at an employee or otherwise verbally abusing him or her
  • One employee being singled out for unjustified criticism or blame
  • An employee being excluded from company activities or having his or her work or contributions purposefully ignored
  • Language or actions that embarrass or humiliate an employee
  • Practical jokes, especially if they occur repeatedly to the same person. 

What you can do about it. 

  • Document what was said, when, who was present, how you felt. 
  • Confront the person, letting him or her know about the impact his or her actions had on you. On the upside, this gives him or her the opportunity to modify their behavior. On the downside, you may be more vulnerable to further bullying as a result. If this happens, continue to document the occurrences. 
  • Report your concerns to a person in authority and / or the Human Resources department. 


  • Targets endure bullying for almost two years before filing a complaint
  • Targets have a seventy percent chance of losing their jobs
  • Seventeen percent of targets have to transfer to other jobs
  • Only thirteen percent of bullies are ever punished or terminated
  • Seventy-one percent of bullies outrank their targets
  • Bullying is three times more prevalent than sexual harassment
  • Bullying is often invisible and occurs behind closed doors without witnesses
  • Even when bullying is witnessed, team members usually side with the bully
  • As many as ten percent of suicides may be related to workplace traumatization.
  • Eighty-one percent of bullies are in supervisory roles
  • Fifty-eight percent of bullies are female (Namie)
  • Eighty-four percent of bullied employees are female
  • Twenty-one percent of all workers have been targeted by bullies
  • Fifty-eight percent are targeted because they stand up to unfair treatment by the bully
  • Fifty-six percent are mobbed because the bully envies the target's level of competence
  • Forty-nine percent are targeted simply because they are nice people
  • Forty-six percent are bullied because they are ethical
  • Thirty-nine percent are bullied because it was just their turn

    Workplace Policies must: 

    • be unequivocally supported by management and applicable to management. 
    • be clear. 
    • be fair;
    • known to everyone, at all levels in the organization; and 
    • applied to everyone at all levels of the organization. 
    • change the workplace culture by getting the word out about the issue of harassment and involving employees in the preparation of the anti-harassment policy.
    • say management will not tolerate any harassing situations, and make sure it is enforced. 
    • include a policy statement that the employer will not tolerate any harassing behavior and by helping employees to understand the laws around harassment. 

    Writing the Policy

    Involve employees in the creation of the policy so that: 

    • people can be educated about what harassment is, why it is unacceptable, and what they can do about it;
    • people may be less afraid to speak up if they find themselves in, or witnessing a harassing situation; 
    • a strong, clear message is communicated that the employer supports the policy and will not tolerate harassment; 
    • employees have a personal interest in the policy, making them more likely to understand and support it; and 
    • employees feel their contributions are valued, thereby increasing satisfaction in the workplace.
    • showing that that you mean it, ensuring the policy applies to senior management as well as other employees. When situations arise, apply the policy fairly and according to the rules, not matter who is involved.

    Attributes of the policy: 

    • Explain what harassment is and give examples 
    • Give clear directions for handling complaints
    • Clarifies roles 
    • Educates current and prospective employees 
    • A training tool for managers 
    • Be resourced with anti-harassment counsellors, mediators and investigators 
    • Be monitored and reviewed annually or more frequently if needed. 

    Some statistics about bullying: 

    Bullying is of a predatory nature, or even may be dispute-related in some cases. It should never be brushed off as a personality clash because:

    Nationwide statistics on workplace bullying indicate: 

    Reference: Canadian Human Rights Commission, "Anti-Harassment Policies for the Workplace:  An Employer's Guide", March 2006, www.chrc-ccdp.ca, Government of Canada  http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/publications/anti_harassment_toc-eng.aspx

    The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) defines harassment as "unwelcome behavior that demeans, humiliates or embarrasses" the individual, unwanted sexual behavior, and abuse of authority." 

    Ultimately, employers are responsible for acts of work - related harassment, according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. 

    "Harassment is against the law. Both the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code protect employees from harassment related to work. Provincial human rights laws also prohibit harassment. And the Criminal Code protects people from physical or sexual assault."

    The Commission states that "Employers are required by the Canada Labour Code to develop their own harassment policies. In addition, the existence of appropriate harassment policies and procedures will be a factor considered by the Human Rights Commission in evaluating a company's liability in harassment complaints."  

    To assist employers in meeting these requirements, the CHRC has established model policies for small, medium and large organizations.  Employers retain responsibility for preparing appropriate policies, monitoring their effectiveness and updating them as required, ensuring all employees are aware of the policy and providing anti-harassment training.  

    Some other reading on the subject: