Learning Task 3: Respect in the Workplace

Click play on the following audio player to listen along as you read this section.

Contributing to A Respectful Workplace

All workers are responsible for their own conduct and ensuring that they maintain a respectful workplace. Employers are responsible for ensuring that they take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of their workers in a workplace that is free from bullying and harassment. Employers that indenture apprentices are also responsible for ensuring that their apprentices are provided learning opportunities to continue their growth in their field.

Workers also have a responsibility to others in keeping the workplace respectful.  This means that as workers if you witness inappropriate behaviors towards others, you need to know how to intervene to create a safe space for your co-workers.  This is often referred to as “being more than a bystander,” a bystander is someone who stands by and watches as things unfold.  The consequences of being a bystander can be potentially detrimental to someone physically or psychologically.  Imagine this; you witness a serious car accident, but rather than calling 911 and getting help for those involved, you watch the situation unfold and maybe even take a picture.  The consequences in this example are quite obvious, however in some cases where they may not be as blatant, it is still important to consider the impact on those involved.  The act of being more than a bystander is intervening in a way that either diffuses the situation or helps to remove the target of the inappropriate behaviour from the situation.  These situations can vary from physical threats, to harassment, to racist or sexist comments or more.

Interventions can be achieved in a number of different ways including:

  • Taking the attention off the target, changing the topic of conversation or the art of distraction can often quickly shift focus from the target to something else.
  • Confronting the behavior, directly engaging with the person participating in the inappropriate behavior when safe to do so, can shut down further harm and show that you find this behavior to be unacceptable in the workplace.
  • Finding assistance to intervene, if you don’t feel as though there is a safe way to do either of the above options, or you are not comfortable stepping in, this is a way to still make a difference.  By engaging with a supervisor, a peer, or an authority figure for assistance, you can still help to diffuse the situation and ensure the safety of your co-worker. Remember safety does not just apply to physical harm, but also psychological harm.

Larger companies and governmental organizations will normally have new employee orientations (in person or online) as well as employee manuals or specific codes of conduct regarding what is expected in the workplace. Smaller companies may not have these formalized tools, but they are still subject to the same federal and provincial legislation put in place to ensure respect in the workplace. Individuals who violate these laws may be subject to discipline by their employer, up to and including termination of employment, and/or legal prosecution.

Unconscious Bias

In creating a respectful workplace, we must consider things that may affect our ability to engage with our co-workers in a respectful manner.  One of the most impactful driving forces in our interactions with others is something called unconscious bias. Unconscious bias is a preconceived notion that we may form about a group of people or a person without consciously recognizing it, this notion can be either positive or negative but typically is negative. These quick conclusions formed in our brains automatically are formed out of personal experiences and background. Theses prejudices or stereotypes can impact the way we interact and navigate personal communications with people.  In order to create a respectful and inclusive workplace we must learn to recognize our own unconscious biases and question as to what impact they will have in our responses to others and situations. It is important to pause and reflect on your unconscious biases before interacting with others.


A respectful workplace is a place where employees are:

  • considerate of one another
  • inclusive of other individuals or groups regardless of differences in background, gender, culture, strengths, or opinions
  • not subjected to disrespectful, discriminating, bullying, or harassing behaviour
  • supported by their employer/management team to resolve disputes

The following behaviours and attitudes are not acceptable:

  • Personal harassment is considered any behaviour by a person directed against another person that a reasonable person would consider offensive, humiliating, or intimidating. Examples include making derogatory comments, swearing, yelling, inappropriately interfering in another person’s work, derogatory gestures, inappropriate practical jokes, ridicule, gossip, reckless disregard or denial of another’s rights, improper use of power or authority, or physical assault.
  • Bullying is a repeated or systematic behaviour—physical, verbal, or psychological—that is intended to belittle, intimidate, coerce, or isolate another person.
  • Discrimination is unfair differential treatment of an individual or group based on race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, age, or unrelated criminal conviction.
  • Discriminatory harassment is abusive, unfair, offensive, or demeaning treatment of a person or group that interferes with work or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive workplace.
  • Gender-based harassment is any behaviour that polices and reinforces traditional heterosexual gender norms, this can include harassment for gender non-conformity.
  • Sexual harassment is conduct of a sexual nature that is unwanted or unwelcome. This can include, but is not limited to unwanted remarks, behaviours, or communications of a sexual nature. Sexual solicitations, advances, suggestive comments, gestures, songs, and chants.  The inappropriate display of sexually suggestive or sexualized pictures, posters objects or graffiti.  Non-consensual sharing of explicit, sexual, or sexualized pictures, video, or other media on the internet or otherwise.  Sexual comments or slurs on social media platforms.  Expressions of gender bias that may include remarks that discriminate, denigrate and/or create a toxic learning environment. And sexual or sexualized content that interferes with a person’s dignity or privacy such as voyeurism or exhibitionism.
  • Sexual Assault is any form of sexual contact without consent.


The following legislation governs acceptable behaviour.

  • Workers Compensation Act: The Workers Compensation Act outlines the general duties for employers, workers, and supervisors. In the case of bullying or harassment in the workplace, an employer is required to take all reasonable steps necessary to address complaints. If the issue is not handled at the workplace, a formal complaint can be submitted to WorkSafeBC.
  • Human Rights Code: The Human Rights Code of British Columbia is intended to address all issues of discrimination that prevent full and free participation in economic, social, political, and cultural life in BC.
  • Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: The Charter recognizes primary fundamental freedoms, democratic rights, mobility rights, legal rights, and equality rights and recognizes the multicultural heritage of Canadians.
  • Civil Rights Protection Act: This Act addresses conduct and communication that promotes hatred or contempt or superiority/inferiority based on colour, race, religion, ethnic origin, or place of origin.
  • Multiculturalism Act: This Act recognizes diversity as a fundamental characteristic of society in which there are no impediments to full and free participation in the economic, social, cultural, and political life of British Columbia.
  • Criminal Code of Canada Consolidated Statutes and Regulations: This section of federal legislation defines criminal harassment, prohibited conduct, and punishment.

Guidelines for Your Own Behaviour

To ensure that your behaviour promotes a respectful workplace, consider the following:

  • Before acting, consider the impact of your words or actions on others. How would it feel to be on the receiving end?
  • Know your unconscious biases and be aware of how they influence your decision making.
  • Recognize and respect the differences of your co-workers.
  • Monitor your communications: verbal, written, body language, and listening.
  • Gain a better understanding of yourself and the triggers that set you off. This will allow you to better control your reactions and act appropriately instead of in haste or anger.
  • Take responsibility for your actions and be proactive in resolving conflict with your employer or co-workers.
  • Base your decisions on facts rather than assumptions.
  • Remember that you are not at the centre of all activities and look at the bigger picture.
  • Don’t sit on the sidelines when you fear or see a co-worker being harassed or bullied. Complacency allows inappropriate behaviour to continue and escalate and can cause lasting physical or psychological harm.
  • If you encounter a problem in the workplace, be proactive in resolving it in an appropriate way. WorkSafeBC’s Toward a respectful workplace: A handbook on preventing and addressing workplace bullying and harassment is a thorough overview on this topic and provides examples of how to foster a respectful workplace.

Self-test icon.Now complete the Learning Task Self-Test.


Self-Test 3

  1. All individuals are responsible for their own conduct and ensuring that they maintain a respectful workplace.
    1. True
    2. False
  2. It is not the responsibility of the employer to ensure that reasonable steps are taken to ensure health and safety in the workplace.
    1. True
    2. False
  3. It is not the responsibility of the employer to ensure that the workplace is free from bullying and harassment.
    1. True
    2. False
  4. What is included in a respectful workplace?
    1. Inappropriate behaviour is not addressed.
    2. No jokes are made and everyone is very serious.
    3. Friendships between employees are discouraged.
    4. Individuals are considerate, inclusive, and supportive of one another.
  5. When is a joke not a joke?
    1. When it is inappropriate and doesn’t belong in a workplace.
    2. When it is hurtful or derogatory to another individual or group of individuals.
    3. All of the above
    4. None of the above
  6. How do you promote a respectful workplace?
    1. Keep to yourself and don’t cause any problems.
    2. If you see or hear something that is inappropriate, forget about it.
    3. Consider the impact of words or actions and how they affect others.
    4. Monitor and report on other people’s communications and behaviours.
  7. Which of the following is/are way(s) to be more than a bystander?
    1. Taking attention off the target
    2. Confronting the behaviour
    3. Finding assistance to intervene
    4. All of the above
  8. Sexual harassment is any conduct of a sexual nature that is unwanted or unwelcome.
    1. True
    2. False
  9. Unconscious bias is a preconceived notion that we may form about a group of people or a person that we consciously realize we have.
    1. True
    2. False
  10. Gender-based harassment is any behaviour that
    1. Polices women’s bodies
    2. Polices and reinforces traditional heterosexual gender norms
    3. Is overt and obvious to all employees of a company
    4. Only negatively impacts female employees

See the Answer Key in the back matter of the textbook for self-test answers.

Media Attributions