For about six years beginning in 1997, four female firefighters in Richmond, British Columbia were subjected to harassment from their male colleagues.

The women reported incidents including obscenities written inside their helmets and lockers, threatening notes, the display of hard-core pornography, and lewd and threatening calls placed to their homes.

One female reported that her boots and pants were filled with human feces, and her helmet was smashed. Other allegations included verbal abuse, a shredded uniform, and a locker being broken into using bolt cutters and a dry chemical sprayed over everything inside.

The actions became dangerous when one of the female firefighters said she was using a hose to extinguish a fire and the water supply was purposely cut off.

The women firefighters said they felt unwelcome and unsafe due to the extensive harassment that took place after their unit based at the Vancouver International Airport was merged with the all-male Richmond Fire Rescue Department.

All four eventually left their jobs because of the harassment and discrimination they faced.

This is an extreme example of mobbing in the workplace.

Mobbing is group bullying. In the workplace it can range from deliberate hostile acts or repeated humiliation by a group, to ostracizing a co-worker — excluding them from work activities and social events. Often, the intent is to force the targeted person to quit their job.

While the mobbing of the female firefighters is a drastic example, mobbing is not uncommon and can happen in any workplace.

A first step to combatting mobbing in the workplace is awareness, followed by education. Velsoft’s latest softskills course — Mobbing in the Workplace — tackles this subject, discussing the difference between individual bullying and mobbing, understanding how and why it occurs, exploring the impacts on the targeted person and the organization, and explaining what to do if you are being mobbed. It also examines how organizations can stop mobbing before it starts. This includes adopting and enforcing policies that address mobbing, bullying and harassment.

This type of training may have helped to prevent the persecution experienced by the female firefighters, which was one of the recommendations of a mediator’s report released in 2006. The report found that the women endured years of harassment at work, noting that the conduct was condoned by the employer or addressed apathetically, and that significant training was needed to bring about necessary changes in the workplace.

Since then, the City of Richmond has adopted anti-harassment guidelines.