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How to prevent workplace violence, harassment and bullying

Cheryl DeCooman for Progressive Dairy Published on 31 July 2020

It is imperative for all team members to feel safe and comfortable to be themselves within a workplace in order to allow for a positive work environment.

It is a shared responsibility for all team members to encourage and maintain a workplace free of all forms of violence and harassment.



Understanding workplace violence, bullying and harassment

Workplace violence can take many forms and may include actual or attempted physical violence and statements or behaviours that can reasonably be interpreted as a threat. Some examples include shaking a fist at someone, destroying property, throwing objects, threats and aggressive body language. A study conducted by the Canadian Initiative on Workplace Violence found one in five violent incidents (including physical assault, sexual assault and robbery) occur in the workplace.

Workplace bullying and harassment can take many forms and may include annoying or embarrassing comments or actions, discrimination and sexual harassment. Some examples may include yelling, insults or demeaning innuendos and offensive or inappropriate jokes or comments. A study out of Queen’s University found in a 2014 poll that 23% of Canadians have experienced workplace harassment in their lifetime.

Intent vs. perception

When talking about workplace violence and harassment, it is very important that you consider the perception of others. We all must understand that another person’s perception of a comment or action may be different from our original intent. Sometimes we are unaware our words or tone may have entirely different meaning to another person, and we may not be aware that our comments or actions are being perceived as unwelcome or inappropriate.

Ought to reasonably be known as unwelcome

It is also important to understand what the statement “ought to reasonably be known as unwelcome” means. This means that regardless of a person’s intent, a comment, action or other behaviour may still be considered workplace violence, harassment or bullying if the average person would consider the comment, action or behaviour unwelcome or inappropriate. This means there is an expectation for all team members to act in an objectively appropriate manner regardless of their intent. Everyone in the workplace must think about their actions and how they might affect those around you.

These actions may include:


  • Laughing at or encouraging inappropriate jokes

  • Making comments that might demean, belittle or offend another individual

  • Ignoring inappropriate or unwelcome behaviours you observe in the workplace

  • Making inappropriate comments based on a person’s race, culture, sexual identity, sexual orientation, place of birth, disabilities, etc.

Other things to consider

Violence or harassment in the workplace is not limited to team members and can involve visitors to the farm, contractors or a domestic partner who brings violence or harassment into the workplace.

Workplace violence and harassment is also not limited to your traditional workplace. Work-related violence can occur at business functions, work-related social events, non-work-related social functions or on social media.

How can you prevent violence and harassment?

The best way to handle potential workplace violence, harassment and bullying is to start with preventative training. Each year, employees should take a training course that focuses on prevention and awareness.

Each operation should also have a workplace violence, harassment and bullying policy that is reviewed on an annual basis. A copy of this policy should be made available to all employees, and a summary poster of the policy should be hung on your health and safety board.

Finally, in the event an incident occurs on your operation, ensure you complete a thorough investigation into the incident, interview the accused, victim and all witnesses. After an investigation has been completed, corrective actions must be taken to ensure incidents do not re-occur in the future.

Workplace violence, harassment and bullying is something everyone working on the dairy can be active participants in preventing, and ensuring a safe, healthy working environment is a top priority for everyone.  end mark


References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Cheryl DeCooman, CHRL, can also be reached at (519) 532-2508 or on Twitter and Instagram.

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