Supervisors Have Legal Responsibilities regarding Bullying and Harassment

How much impact can you, as an individual, have in creating a culture of respect in your organization? We often look at our leadership skills, but are you aware of your legal responsibilities of supervisors to protect against bullying and harassment when managing employees?

Let me back up a bit here.

I often remind my clients that organizations have a moral (and often times, legal) responsibility to provide their employees with a ‘safe workplace.’

Definition of Legal Responsibilities for Supervisors

But what does that mean exactly? What do you immediately think about when you see the phrase ‘safe workplace’?

Do you think about physical safety? Many people do.

Or does your mind make the link further to include psychological safety?

There are specific legal responsibilities that fall onto the shoulders of supervisors and managers.

But there are also specific responsibilities that workers have.

British Columbia worker duties

For instance, in British Columbia, workers duties include:

  • Not engaging in bullying and harassment of other workers, supervisors, the employer, or persons acting on behalf of the employer
  • Reporting if bullying and harassment is observed or experienced in the workplace
  • Applying and complying with the employer’s polices and procedures on bullying and harassment

It is my firm belief that creating a culture of respect within a workplace isn’t simply about not doing bad things.

Do good things

It’s also about encouraging and supporting people to do good things as well.

Furthermore, we can’t just expect these do-gooders to solely come from management.

In other words, the responsibility to create a positive workplace culture (and by default, a ‘safe workplace’) is not the sole responsibility of management.

Yes, there are some things that the employer has a responsibility for and needs to be held accountable, but it’s important to remember that each one of us can make a difference in our workplace by our attitudes, and how we speak to and treat others.

Think about how you show up and behave at work.

Do you demonstrate that you care about those you work with?

Or do you need a Respectful Conduct Training refresher?

Dale Carnegie Refresher – How you influence people

Well, let’s go back to Dale Carnegie’s six principles for ‘winning friends and influencing people’ for a moment:

Do you…

  1. express a genuine interest in other people?
  2. smile at people at work?
  3. refer to your colleagues by their first name?
  4. demonstrate good listening skills towards people at work?
  5. mainly talk in terms of other people’s interests?
  6. demonstrate that the other person is important – and do it sincerely?

Just as your neighborhood has a certain feel to it, your workplace has a culture too, which is the direct result of how you behave and treat others.

After all, culture is the tacit social order of an organization. It shapes attitudes and behaviours in a wide range of ways.

Culture is a shared responsibility.

It is a group phenomenon.

It cannot solely exist within a single person (i.e. management), nor is it simply the average of individual characteristics.

What is Culture in the Workplace?

It lives in shared behaviours and values and is most commonly experienced through the norms and expectations of a group— it is the group’s unwritten rules.

This is the critical piece for me.

These shared behaviours should not be something that you need to write down on a culture Code of Conduct (although to be honest, that definitely helps as a reminder for some folks).

I always encourage employers to engage their teams in a dialogue exercise to craft their own expectations of how each of them commits to showing up in the workplace.

Endowment Effect

Studies show that when people are building something themselves, they place a higher value on it, adopting more ownership over it than if they are handed something built by someone else. This is called the Endowment Effect.

The intent behind this is that the employees themselves define the types of behaviour that they intend to display towards one another, and also hold each other accountable to that standard moving forward.

Part of that code includes an understanding of how disputes will be resolved when people don’t agree, or when someone does or says something that results in conflict within a relationship.

Interestingly (but not surprisingly), no matter what the industry or where the business is geographically located, these Codes (or Charters) all contain extremely similar commitments.

However, we must never assume that everyone knows instinctively how to be civil. There are those people everywhere who have never learned these very basic skills.

Code of Conduct for Legal Responsibilities of Supervisors

Here is a sample Code of Conduct to get you thinking about this idea and the power it could have in your workplace:


  1. greet and acknowledge each other
  2. say please and thank you
  3. acknowledge the impact of our behaviour on others
  4. welcome feedback from each other
  5. are approachable
  6. are direct, sensitive, and honest
  7. acknowledge the contributions of others
  8. respect each other’s time commitments
  9. address incivility
  10. treat each other equally and with respect, no matter the conditions.

There you have it.

Earth shattering?

No. Just simple ideas about how to be a good neighbour in your community of a workplace.

Is it doable?

Absolutely! But it needs to be modeled throughout the organization, especially at the top.

Perhaps it’s a ‘new norm’ for your workplace, but it still needs to be the norm.