Workplace Harassment

The hospitality industry fosters a casual workplace environment and has a sense of familiarity different than a corporate formal environment of an office. Language, jokes, flirtations are all not only common place, but a huge part of why people love the industry in the first place, and how we cope with the stresses of our roles.  However, we need to recognize that people new to the industry, or those who may have different sexual identities, cultural backgrounds or past experiences with harassment may be more sensitive, and that creating a safe workplace for everyone is a benefit to all.

It is hard to define as there are so many interpretations of what constitutes harassment, and so we have included the definition from WorksafeBC as a way to provide a basis for people to start a conversation. Worksafe BC defines bullying and harassment as any inappropriate conduct or comment by a person towards a worker that the person knew would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated. The bottom line is this, harassment is defined by the victim, not the other way around.

Our co-workers, employees and management all deserve to be heard, respected and treated with dignity. Typically, communication at work can be tense, if not outright abusive, when everyone is stressed, when something goes wrong. Blame gets laid, sarcasm reigns supreme and comments fly every which way, with little regard for who they land on, or how that person may feel hearing them.

It’s pretty simple – treat people the way you want to be treated – but in the heat of the moment, we lose sight of our compassion and give way to temper, abusive language and slurs. You don’t have to throw a frying pan a la Marco Pierre White to be an abusive kitchen leader or chef – language and physical abuse has been considered the norm BOH, worn for years as a badge to be proud of. “I worked for so and so, you have no idea how bad it is.”

And then there is the sexual side of harassment, which has come to light on every level of our industry, with both front and back of house owners, managers and staff coming under fire for sexual harassment, abuse and rape. There was a time when it was common place to hear “suck it up” or, “you’re making $$$ cash, so just deal with it” from management and co-workers if one complained about sexual harassment from customers. Complaining about a co-worker was usually dismissed also; “It’s a compliment, they like you”. Sexual harassment has been rampant in hospitality since time immemorial, and while some behaviours have become unacceptable on the floor, behind closed doors, there are still major displays of abuse of power and outright predatory actions. While you may not be Harvey Weinstein, you may be surprised how an off-the-cuff comment, overheard joke, non-consensual touch or even “compliment” can be construed as an unwanted sexual advance.

So, how do move forward in creating safe workspaces, free of harassment, racism and sexual abuse? A lot of our culture comes from the top down, meaning our owners and managers set the tone for the workplace, making healthy, communicative environments, or creating toxic, abusive and permissive workplaces that foster every kind of negative effect possible. If you have worked for the latter, which many of us have, you know how strange and “we’re not in Kansas anymore” it is when you find the former. It’s hard to shift a fellow employee’s behaviour when the boss exemplifies the very issues you’re trying to eradicate.

Cultural shifts take time. As employees, do research about your employers. Pressure for change will come from the ground up – you as the employee base of the industry will create a faster effect by refusing to work for places that foster unsafe spaces, and pressure those owners and managers to change.

We also have to remove the stigma of the whistleblower; that if you report your manager/employer for anything, be it tip outs, uniforms, harassment or basic labour laws, that you’ll never get a job anywhere, ever. You are entitled to a safe place to work, and any employer who does not offer this to you deserves to be reported and deal with the consequences.

Possible effects of workplace harassment or bullying:

Stress, depression, low self esteem, alcoholism as a coping mechanism, difficulty retaining employees, loss of sleep, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety are just some examples of how this can affect employees.

Bullying/Harassment Statistics, the effects it has on employees and employers and examples of harassment:

While looking into statistics on workplace bullying, a study done in 2012 by Carrer Builder-Canada had some stats that help us to better understand the prevalence and the effects of bullying and harassment on the immediate workplace. All of which can lead to stress, negative work environment, loss of job, and mental health complications like depression and anxiety in the long run. This affects both employee and employer, so speaking up can save time, money and most importantly, lives.

This does not demand paranoia, but it does warrant vigilance. If you are in a safe place and see someone else being harassed, whether they simply look uncomfortable or you hear language/see behaviour you know is inappropriate, speak up for them.


For an employee:

If you see bullying or harassment immediately report it to your employer.

If you feel you cannot talk to your employer or they don’t take steps to fix the problem, contact the Prevention Information Line at 604-276-3100

For an employer:

If you see bullying or harassment or are told about it by an employee follow company procedures to address the situation and if you need more guidance/lack appropriate procedures, contact the Prevention Information Line at 604-276-3100 and they will guide you on appropriate resources.


All of this taken from

In this study 552 full time Canadians (non-government, not self employed). The results we found most important to note here include:

  1. 45% of people in the survey said they were bullied, from this 24% was from coworkers and 23% was from their immediate boss. This is why Mind The Bar exists, and has an onboarding package for participating venues, so that coworkers become more aware of potential behaviours and how they could affect their colleagues, and also to help employees who feel bullied by their bosses have a place to turn when they cannot talk to their employer.
  2. 54% of the 45% reported they confronted their bully. This stat is important to note because it reminds all of us that many sit and suffer in silence, without anyone ever knowing they are struggling.
  3. Only one-third of workers reported the bullying to HR. The service industry doesn’t always have an HR representative available for employees, but there are organizations that can act as HR on behalf of employees in which their employers doesn’t have a representative to talk to.
  4. One-third of bullied works said it caused health problems. This results in diminished productivity and loss of money for the employer and employee, and needs to be addressed so that everyone can continue to be as happy and productive as possible.
  5. 26% of bullied workers quit their jobs to stop the bullying. Finding the right people is essential to any place of business, and training is expensive, it’s in everyone’s interest to protect their employees mental health, even if just a 1 on 1 with employees 1-4 times a year to check in.

There are many ways that people feel bullied in the workplace, so the study included examples that people left in the comments section of the survey as a way to help all of us better understand what actions we make that could be perceived as bullying. This is a great tool to understand how different people interpret different actions as bullying so that we can all be aware of ways to help make our workplace a healthier environment.

– Used different standards/policies toward me than other workers – 50%

– Ignored – 49%

– Falsely accused of mistakes – 47%

– Constantly criticized – 36%

– Belittling comments were made about my work during meetings – 30%

– Someone didn’t perform certain duties, which negatively impacted my work – 30%

– Gossiped about – 29%

– Someone stole credit for my work – 25%

– Yelled at by boss in front of coworkers – 24%

– Purposely excluded from projects or meetings – 22%

– Picked on for personal attributes – 20%

We know that statistics are never perfect as they are open to interpretation, as are definitions of harassment and bullying, it just helps us all to realize many people are affected and that there are potentially many more incidences that are never reported.

There are several reasons why bullying and harassment goes unreported:

  • People fear they will not be believed
  • People feel embarrassment and shame.
  • They feel like “what’s the point?”
  • The bully is their superior
  • Anxious that leadership will get mad
  • Fear of retaliation
  • Fear of being ostracized by coworkers

Knowing your rights is the first step to feeling safe reporting incidents of bullying and harassment:

The Workers Compensation Act (British Columbia) sets out the general duties of employers, workers, and supervisors to ensure and protect the health and safety of workplace parties in sections 115 – 117. WorkSafeBC issued Occupational Health and Safety policies on workplace bullying and harassment further to these sections of the Act. These policies came into effect on November 1, 2013.

Section 115 of this Act focus on employers obligations: 

  • Draft a workplace policy statement.
  • Take action to prevent/minimize bullying and harassment
  • Develop reporting procedures
  • Develop procedures for dealing with / investigating incidents or complaints
  • Train workers and supervisors

Section 116 of this Act focuses on employee obligations:

  • Report if they observe or experience bullying and harassment
  • Not engage in workplace bullying and harassment
  • Apply and comply with workplace policies and procedures on bullying and harassment.

Here are some ways employers can begin to provide awareness in a place of employment for a safer workspace:

  • A clearly worded statement that bullying and harassment is inappropriate and will not be tolerated.
  • Description of bullying and harassment.
  • Definition of terms that are used in the policy.
  • A clear procedure for reporting bullying and harassment.
  • The process that will be followed when a complaint is received.
  • Consequences if bullying and harassment is established.
  • Retaliation against workers who report workplace bullying will not be tolerated.
  • Frivolous, vexatious or malicious complaints will lead to disciplinary action against complainant.