HALIFAX—Nova Scotia’s labour laws don’t protect against workplace bullying and advocates say the government should commit to updating the legislation and catch up with every other Canadian province.
Annette Harpell said she was caught in Nova Scotia’s legislative gap after enduring more than a year of psychological harassment from a co-worker starting in 2016. Harpell shared her story with reporters at Province House Friday.
“I was an employee who was repeatedly bullied and harassed by a co-worker and I went to my management many, many times, all levels of management at the store, and basically I felt that with the lack of action on their part, it wasn’t a concern.”
Harpell said in 2017 her managers arranged to sit down with her and the co-worker, hear both sides of the story and seek a resolution, but she found the meeting overwhelming, intimidating and ineffective. The bullying continued and her mental health continued to deteriorate.
“I was a mess, I couldn’t go to work, when I was at work, my mind was not there,” Harpell said.
In the fall of 2017, Harpell said her doctor recommended she take a leave from work. In the fall of 2018, she lost her job.
Harpell said she took her case to Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) at the Nova Scotia Department of Labour, but the case was dropped because psychological harm isn’t in the division’s purview. An appeal with the Labour Board was turned down for the same reason.
NDP MLA Tammy Martin introduced a bill Friday to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act so that cases like Harpell’s would be included.
Nova Scotia is one of only three provinces without workplace protections against bullying; the other two — Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island — have committed to changing their laws.
After tabling the bill, Martin told reporters she considered the change “a no-brainer.”
“Employees need protection. Psychological abuse is as significant as physical abuse. It’s a non-dollar issue, let’s include this in the legislation and give employees the protections and safeties that they need.”
Larry Haiven, of the advocacy group Equity Watch, said cases like Harpell’s are common, and need to be adjudicated outside the workplace where they’re alleged to have happened.
“We’re not saying that every case that would go before the occupational health and safety division of the labour department would win, but right now you don’t even get a chance,” Haiven told reporters at Province House Friday.
“Psychological bullying is so important that the (United Nations) International Labour Organization just adopted a convention that applies to all the member countries on this issue, so it’s big and I’m really hoping Nova Scotia just steps up and passes the law. It’s time.”
Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis said his department recognizes the gap and has been looking for the best way to close it for at least as long as he’s been the head of the department—two years.
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He said department officials have been meeting with advisory groups and surveying the laws and regulations in other jurisdictions.
Kousoulis said until updates can be made to Nova Scotia’s laws or regulations, some cases of workplace bullying “will fall through the cracks,” but he urged complainants to contact OH&S anyway, as police or the human rights commission may be able to intervene.
Published at Fri, 04 Oct 2019 18:06:00 +0000