Emotional and physical harassment are not confined to the schoolyard. Bullies eventually grow up, but their tendencies to dominate do not always dissipate. Many employers traditionally think of harassment as "sexual harassment" and design policies to address these types of incidents, leaving employees to settle conflicts between themselves. Recognizing that harassment takes many forms, the province of Quebec has gone so far as to outlaw "psychological harassment" in the workplace. Moreover, Bill C-451, which was introduced at the federal level, proposes to prohibit this type of harassment under the Canada Labour Code. To date, no other province has followed suit. But like it or not, this issue is not going away and employers are best advised to deal with the matter head-on. A proactive stance will aid in combating the effects of workplace harassment, which manifest themselves in a number of ways including decreased productivity, increased sick leave due to stress-related illnesses, high staff turnover, and low morale.
Quebec’s amendments are set to come into force on June 1, 2004. Psychological harassment will be defined as follows:
any vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures, that affects an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that results in a harmful work environment for the employee. A single serious incidence of such behaviour that has a lasting harmful effect on an employee may also constitute psychological harassment.
Under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the "Code"), a mechanism exists to deal with harassment stemming from certain prohibited grounds. Harassment means engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. Under the Code, every person who is an employee has a right to be free from harassment in the workplace because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, samesex partnership status, family status or disability.
Workplace harassment may also be a health and safety concern. Employers have a general duty under occupational health and safety legislation to take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of their employees; this can mean both physical harm and mental harm. Accordingly, employers should design and implement harassment policies which contemplate the prevention and handling of all of these forms of harassment.
It goes without saying that there may be a "fine line" between strong management styles and what an employee might consider harassment. However, objective and constructive comments that are intended to help employees with their work will generally not be viewed as harassment.
To prevent workplace harassment, employers should develop a policy and communicate that policy clearly to employees. The policy should define types of behaviour that constitute harassment and convey the message that all employees must maintain a safe workplace. Employers should establish proper systems for the investigation of and responding to complaints, and outline the confidential process in the policy. They should also ensure employees understand the consequences of breaching the policy. In developing a prevention program, representatives from management, employees, human resources, security and the employee assistance program should be consulted. Those within the workplace will likely have ideas about how to address workplace harassment.
The following is a list of general tips for protecting the workplace:
1. Educate everyone that workplace harassment is a serious concern and ensure that all managers, supervisors and employees understand their responsibilities in prevention;
2. Try to identify and work out solutions before situations escalate;
3. Implement a workplace policy that includes a confidential reporting system and investigation process;
4. Treat all complaints seriously and respond to them promptly;
5. Assure employees that no reprisals will be made against employees who make allegations in good faith;
6. Be fair and consistent when dealing with allegations;
7. Commit to providing support services for those who need it; and
8. Commit to fulfilling the prevention training needs of different personnel.
The foregoing provides only an overview. Readers are cautioned against making any decisions based on this material alone. Rather, a qualified lawyer should be consulted.
While that agreement mandated export measures on Canadian softwood lumber exports destined for the United States, it also protected those lumber exports from the potential imposition of onerous import measures by the U.S.
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).