KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Nova Scotia is the only jurisdiction in Canada that neither has legislation nor has publicly announced the intention of introducing legislation to outlaw bullying and psychological harassment in the workplace.
Annette Harpell, a resident of Antigonish, was fired from Lawtons Drugs (owned by Sobeys) nearly a year ago. On June 19, the Nova Scotia Labour Board dismissed her complaint that she was psychologically abused at her job and said it was up to the provincial government to change the law to cover such a situation.
Today, an employee who faces harassment and bullying at work has virtually no recourse. Harassment and bullying are not prohibited grounds according to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. And the Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety Act also does not cover psychological violence in the workplace.
“The situation is surreal and desperate,” says Equity Watch’s Larry Haiven, professor emeritus at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University. He has taught and researched labour policy for more than 30 years.
“The law is supposed to protect employees from work hazards. The scientific literature shows that humiliation, harassment, intimidation and other forms of abuse are harmful like physical injuries. If a box fell on Ms Harpell’s head, she would be covered. But here she is not. Nova Scotia is half a century behind the times,” says Larry Haiven.
Harpell relates how she was terrorized by a female co-worker. Not only did the co-worker refuse to talk to her, to address her or to work with her, the co-worker also shredded Harpell’s work and hid it in the garbage can. This forced Harpell to do the work again.
No one at Lawtons corrected the bully and management seemed scared to take her on. When corporate human resources finally intervened, it made the situation worse; senior management would not listen to Harpell. Finally Lawtons simply fired her. Talk about shooting the messenger!
As Harpell notes: “We employees in Nova Scotia need legislation regarding workplace bullying. … It is our right to work in a healthy and safe environment, and be protected from all forms of workplace abuse.”
On Friday, at Province House, the opposition NDP Provincial Caucus proposed a private member’s bill to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
As NDP Labour and Advanced Education Spokesperson Tammy Martin said, “No one should have to worry that they will lose their job because they experience bullying or harassment at work. Our province is behind the rest of the country when it comes to workplace harm of this kind and I hope all parties will support addressing this gap in the Act.”
Judy Haiven is on the steering committee of Equity Watch, a Halifax-based organization which fights bullying, racism and discrimination in the workplace. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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