Legislation enforcing the creation of workplace policies on bullying and sexual harassment goes into effect next month on June 1.

Speaking at a news conference held earlier today, Minister of Labour, Jason Hayward said Bermuda’s employers had been given six months since the legislation was approved by the Lower House to draft a “zero tolerance policy”.

It was “one of the major additions to the Employment Act 2000”, said Mr Hayward.

The legislation requires employers to give staff a copy of the statement, which must specify their recourse for alleged breaches.

It also combines ten tribunals and boards into a single Employment and Labour Relations Tribunal to manage employee complaints.

Highlights of the Minister’s full statement:

Some of the significant amendments to the Employment Act 2000 include:

  • 1 Restricting Probationary Periods
  • 2 Allowing Ante-natal Care before completion of one year of employment.
  • 3 Extending Bereavement Leave to Grandparents and Grandchildren. .
  • 4 Mandating timely Payment upon Termination
  • 5 Clarifying Independent Contractor to protect an employee’s rights
  • 6 Ensuring Meal Breaks throughout the workday; and
  • 7 Mandating workplace policies against Bullying and Sexual Harassment.

In Bermuda, the prevalence of bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace is alarming. Also, many bullying and sexual harassment cases are not reported out of fear of retaliation, being ostracised or blacklisted, and the distress of recounting and reliving the trauma caused by the experience.

The Human Rights Commission or HRC continues to do tremendous work in this area. In their 2018 Annual Report, the section on discrimination reported that 34 percent of their intakes (intakes are comprised of complaints and queries) were for workplace harassment, which is the second-highest, surpassed only by workplace discrimination. Of the active investigations into discrimination conducted by the HRC in 2018, Harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace accounted for 31 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

According to the HRC’s 2019 Annual Report, discriminatory harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace together amounted to 33 percent of their intakes.

This amendment to the Employment Act 2000 signifies how necessary it is for employers to ensure that employees are allowed to work in environments free of bullying and sexual harassment while also having the appropriate protocols in place to deal with such actions and demonstrating the zero-tolerance approach that all employers should have to bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Effective June 1, 2021, employers will be required to have a zero-tolerance policy statement for bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace and recourse for employees for any contravention of the policy. The Ministry of Labour will assist employers by providing employers with template policy statements for their businesses if required.

All employees must be presented with the policy statement, and the employer is to help ensure employees understand it. Any employer who contravenes this requirement will be liable to a civil penalty imposed by the Labour Relations Manager or the Employment and Labour Tribunal.

Policies are an effective step to mitigate the occurrence of violence and harassment in the workplace. We must all work toward eradicating unacceptable behaviours, including bullying and sexual harassment from the world of work. These amendments are a start, but ultimately, it is our responsibility to treat everyone fairly, with respect and dignity.