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Carreer Junction by Michele Majul-IbarraManaging does not equate to bullying

by Michele Majul-Ibarra

In the workplace, there is no doubt employees have conversations about their many interactions with their team leader or manager. Sometimes, some of these interactions may even be viewed as either harassment or bullying. As a matter of fact, discipline may be one of the most common areas where claims of harassments originate. In these instances, employees may feel they are being harassed, while from a manager’s point of view, they feel they are only doing their job. Harassment is a serious claim, however, sometimes these allegations arise simply because employees receive negative feedback from their team leader.

Looking back to a few years ago, Amodeo v Craiglee Nursing Home Limited was case of a social worker who alleged that a director harassed her by repeatedly telling her to document conversations with the family members of the nursing home residents. In addition, they raised some concerns about her performance particularly because they had to require her to work more hours as a result of her inability to keep up with the completion of resident assessments. As a result, she received a written warning from management. The social worker then sent an e-mail to senior management regarding the treatment she received from the director alleging she was being harassed.

The social worker’s employment was eventually terminated, which subsequently enabled her decision to file a complaint pursuant to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. She alleged that her dismissal was retaliation for the harassment complaint. However, the Ontario Labour Relations Board rejected the complaint stating, “The workplace harassment provisions do not normally apply to the conduct of a manager that falls within his or her normal work function, even if in the course of carrying out that function a worker suffers unpleasant consequences.”

The Board found that while some of the comments that the employer made towards the social worker were direct and unfavourable, they were part of the employer’s role in managing their employees who were unsuccessful in meeting work expectations. The Board’s decision clearly indicates that employers are entitled to manage their workforce.

Although some employees tend to feel discouraged by negative reviews from their team leaders, there is no law that dictates employers have to be “nice” and lenient. Managers do the job that they do because they are required to do so. Every manager has a different style of communicating with employees. There are those who are passive and there are those who are very hands-on. There are also managers who use the “non-nonsense” style of management, and this style is not classified as bullying because they simply want to ensure that business goals and needs are met.

The Treasury Board Secretariat provides a guideline of what constitutes and what does not constitute harassment. This list includes: “Normal exercise of management’s right to manage such as the day-to-day management of operations, performance at work or absenteeism, the assignment of tasks, reference checks, and the application of progressive discipline, up to and including termination, constitute the legitimate exercise of management’s authority. However, while these management functions do not constitute harassment, the employer must exercise due diligence to how they exercise such functions as their delivery could potentially give rise to perceptions of harassment.”

In light of the above, employers are entitled to manage their workforce. It is their job to supervise, evaluate performance, and discipline employees. There is a significant difference between managing and bullying. Unfortunately, some people may have been given a false impression through various social media postings, media reports or coverage of anti-bullying campaigns that trigger some of these individuals to portray any negative interactions with their supervisors or managers as bullying.

This article is intended for information purposes only and not to be considered as professional advice.


Michele Majul-Ibarra, IPMA-ACP is an Advanced Certified HR Professional through the International Personnel Management Association. She graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology and a Certificate in Human Resource Management. She also holds the C.I.M. professional designation (Certified in Management). E-mail her at

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