Being blunt, direct or even uncivil is not bullying
Unfortunately, many employees either mistakenly believe such interactions constitute harassment, or deliberately mischaracterize such incidents as harassment in order to put themselves in a stronger legal position, particularly when they fear their job is at risk.
There have been several cases over the years that have considered the definition of harassment and whether it would apply to disciplinary action or other legitimate exercises of management authority. This includes the Ontario Labour Relations Board decision in Amodeo v. Craiglee Nursing Home Ltd., in which the board confirmed that disciplinary actions, including warnings, do not constitute harassment.
Protection from harassment and bullying has expanded significantly in recent years. Previously, harassment was not actionable unless it was based on a protected ground pursuant to human rights legislation. The common law evolved to find harassment could constitute constructive dismissal, and then legislation was adapted to incorporate prohibitions on harassment even if it was not based on a ground otherwise protected by human rights legislation.
Employees enjoy greater protection from bullying and harassment than they ever have, but employers are still entitled to manage and discipline employees. Furthermore, employers are not required to be nice. Being blunt, direct or even uncivil is not bullying.
Like many other aspects of employment law, this can be addressed through proper documentation. If all interactions are documented properly, there will be less likelihood the employee will allege the interaction was inappropriate. Furthermore, it is important that managers and supervisors be trained with respect to managing performance and imposing discipline, so they understand their rights as well as their obligations. There is a big difference between managing and bullying, though unfortunately the lines have become blurred.