Since the psychological harassment provisions of the Labour Standards Act came into force in Quebec three years ago, non-unionized employees have filed 6,850 complaints. Ninety-seven percent of the complaints that were filed were settled while being processed by the Commission des Normes du Travail (the "CNT") and, as a result, only 438 complaints were referred to the Commission des Relations du Travail (the "CRT") for a hearing and decision. Of these, 202 were settled out of court.
The CNT’S analysis of the complaints revealed that 63% of them were filed by women, and that 95% involved repeat acts. In 75% of cases, the alleged harasser was the employer or one of its representatives. The CNT found that half the employees who filed a complaint had previously made vain attempts to take steps with their employer. Meanwhile, 38% of the other complainants had not reported the situation to their employer before filing a complaint.
Further to these findings, the CNT plans to focus future action on prevention, in particular by informing employers and employees about the situations that constitute psychological harassment. It also plans to explain the difference between psychological harassment and the normal exercise of the employer’s management rights, which rights are not limited by the psychological harassment provisions.
Earlier this year, in a case called Research House Inc. (Québec recherches) v. Denis, the Quebec Superior Court declared null and void a March 22, 2006 ruling of the CRT that had found in favour of a worker’s claim of psychological harassment. The Superior Court determined that the vice-president and the worker’s immediate supervisor had exercised their "managerial authority in a firm and immediate manner" in dealing with the plaintiff. The court concluded, however, that "the employer’s insistence upon obtaining good service" from the worker could not constitute psychological harassment. (Our translation)
The Superior Court reiterated that, for conduct to be defined as psychological harassment, it must infringe upon the dignity or physical or psychological integrity of the worker and result in a harmful work environment for that person. In this case, the court observed that the worker had not reported any harm from the harassment of which he alleged he was a victim. On another point, the harassment must be assessed objectively from the perspective of a reasonable and diligent person placed in the same situation as the plaintiff.
To our knowledge, this is the first Superior Court decision made subsequent to a request for judicial review of a CRT decision involving psychological harassment. The Quebec Court of Appeal has granted a request for permission to appeal the Superior Court decision.
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