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I would like to welcome you to a new dimension for the Health and Safety office of the Greater Victoria Teachers' Association. Here you will find messages, advice, links and other gadgets related to health and safety, as well as our teaching profession.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Violence, Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

Violence in the workplace can be a frightening experience for workers. We know that working with people, there is always a possibility of encountering violence, bullying or harassment. People are unpredictable. With adults, we expect mature behaviour but children are less sophisticated. Nevertheless, it is not the expectation that it is part of your employment. The Worker Compensation Act and WorkSafe BC were created to ensure that BC workers work in safe and healthy environments. As the BC Federation of Labour reminds us, "Violence is NOT part of your job."

If you have been humiliated, sworn at, spat on or hit at work, you have experienced workplace violence. Constant exposure to workplace violence, even the seemingly small stuff like the passing comments of parents, "the other teacher does it differently," for example, can wear you down over time. Constant exposure can have repercussions on your physical and mental health, as well as, your job satisfaction. Because of the implications for the employer, such as increased sick time and lower productivity, they have an investment in reducing and eliminating workplace violence.

Our District has now put into place several policies and programs to this end. Policy 4304, 4300.1, and 5131 and their accompanying Regulations clearly state the employer's commitment to staff safety. The Violence Prevention Protocol and new WCB Bullying and Harassment policy add teeth to any worker claim of violence, bullying or harassment. We have Collective Agreement language that set out the process for dealing with workplace harassment or sexual harassment. It is no longer tolerable for any worker to experience these actions anymore. Parents cannot shout, berate or intimidate us any longer. It is unacceptable. We do not have to accept threats, fouls language or physical violence from students regardless of age.

These concerns are relative to the worker. If the staff member felt threatened, intimidated or abused, then our processes can kick in. WorkSafe BC defines violence as, 

"the attempted or actual exercise, other than a worker, of any physical force sa as to cause injury to a worker, and includes any threatening statement or behaviour which gives a worker reasonable cause to believe that he or she is at risk of injury."
If it is worker to worker violence, another process comes into play. The bullying and harassment policy from WorkSafe defines it as the following,
"includes any inappropriate conduct or comment by a person towards a worker that the person knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated...
    The definition is broader and includes the actions of colleagues, students, parents and administrators. Being directed or disciplined by an administrator is not harassment, unless it is done in an intimidating or humiliating manner.

 In our office, we do receive complaints of violence from students, but also threatening or intimidating behaviour by administrators, inappropriate remarks made by co-workers and strong-arm behaviour by parents. It is the vindictive email, the negative discussion of a teacher at a PAC meeting, unwanted innuendos by a co-worker or the "guys only" table in a staffroom.

    The most egregious complaints, believe it or not, are about the few principals who will humiliate teachers in staff meetings to suppress dissent, the placing of baby bottles in teacher mailboxes for those that complain, administrators who use homophobic remarks, comments about absences, paternalistic attitudes or gossip about a teacher to his/her co-workers to bring someone in line. It is about power: creating authoritarian or abusive environments to manage schools or to gain something from another person. It has to stop.

It is time to change this culture in our schools. We have the commitment from the Board of Education. We have a commitment from the new Superintendent to create a more respectful and collaborative atmosphere. We have the processes and protocols to deal with these behaviours and attitudes. Let's use them for our benefit. We have the right to a safe and healthy work environment. A safe workplace is everybody's responsibility, let's make it happen.