Canada: Harassment Complaints: Top 5 Pieces Of Advice For Employers

Last Updated: November 6 2017
Article by Kassandra Church and Catherine Galardo

The recent public denunciations of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry in both Quebec and the United States triggered a visceral reaction. Actress Alyssa Milano's call-out to use the hashtag #MeToo on social media to report instances of sexual harassment has gained incredible traction. Literally millions of people have come forward to shatter what was heretofore a wall of silence. Facebook confirmed that in less than 24 hours, 4.7 million people published messages using #MeToo and similar hashtags in other languages, generating 12 million reactions, comments and other postings1. This unprecedented social phenomenon could definitely have an impact on labour relations, since the Labour Standards Act2 (the "Act") imposes stringent obligations on employers in connection with psychological and sexual harassment.

Here are five pieces of advice in this regard:

1.  Know your legal obligations as an employer 

The Act imposes a two-pronged obligation on every employer: take all reasonable means to prevent psychological harassment, and put a stop to any instance of it as soon as it comes to the employer's attention. This obligation also applies to any instance of sexual harassment, as the latter is included in the definition of psychological harassment3.

It should also be noted that an employer must also protect its employees in any situation constituting psychological harassment brought about or created not only by an employee or a manager, but also by a person not in its employ. For example, if an employer's client or supplier harasses an employee, the employer will have to be able to show that it fulfilled its two-fold obligation.

2. Be particularly vigilant at activities held outside the workplace

The employer's obligation does not end when its employees leave the physical confines of the workplace. For the employer must also ensure that its employees are not subject to harassment when they attend gatherings or participate in activities outside the workplace that are organized by the employer. As the Christmas Party season approaches, a timely email or memo to employees reminding them of the behavioural standards that must be observed on such occasions can be a good way to prevent the occurrence of any untoward situation.

3.  Ensure that you have an effective policy against psychological harassment in the workplace: the policy should be an efficient tool allowing the employer to fulfill its obligations, and not a straightjacket of constraining rules

Most enterprises already have a policy on psychological harassment. However, it is not just the existence of such a policy that is important, but the speed with which it is put into action once a complaint is made, as this can avoid proceedings being filed with the Commission des normes du travail, de l'équité et de la santé et sécurité au travail (the "CNESST"). It is essential that any complaint made to the employer be dealt with internally as expeditiously as possible, as the time limit for filing an official complaint with the CNESST is very short: any person wishing to file a complaint regarding psychological harassment at work must do so within 90 days following the last incidence of the offending behaviour4.

The employer must also ensure that the steps for dealing with a complaint set out in its policy can be readily achieved. For example, if the policy provides for a list of individuals who can be members of an investigation committee, that list must be kept up to date.

4. Carefully chose the person responsible for receiving psychological harassment complaints

Choosing the right person to whom psychological harassment complaints are to be made by employees is crucial. While it is generally preferable to designate someone at a senior level, every enterprise is unique, such that it may sometimes be better to designate two individuals, i.e. a man and a woman. Choosing a person lower down in the hierarchy but who is more accessible may also be preferable in order to make it easier for an employee to complain of or report a problematic situation.

5.  Implement remedial measures as soon as a complaint or report of psychological harassment is received, if the situation warrants

The mere existence of a policy and the launching of an investigation will not be enough for the employer to maintain it has fulfilled its legal obligations towards an employee who complained of harassment. In most cases the employer should consider putting preventive measures in place as soon as a complaint is made internally, as the ensuing investigation can sometimes take several weeks before being completed. Such measures should be designed to ensure that the complainant can continue to perform his or her duties while the investigation is ongoing. This can be achieved, for example, by changing the assignment of the complainant or the alleged harasser so that they are no longer in contact with each other, or by insisting that the alleged harasser no longer not communicate with the complainant5.

It should be added that if the employer does not succeed in convincing the court that it took appropriate measures to prevent or put a stop to the harassment, it may be ordered to pay damages, to pay the costs of the hearing, to put in place a sensitization and training program on psychological harassment, etc.

It is essential to remember that an employer is bound to take action as soon as it becomes aware of improper conduct on the part of an employee or a third party in the workplace or at a work-related activity. It must not wait until a formal complaint is made or hide behind its policy if it suspects something untoward is occurring. Where harassment is concerned, it is better by far to be proactive.


2 CQLR, c. N-1.1

3 The Act defines psychological harassment as "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 integrity and that results in a harmful work environment for the employee".

4 Section 123.7 of the Act

5 See in particular Syndicat de la fonction publique du Québec – unité ouvriers v. Québec (gouvernement du) (Ministère des transports), D.T.E. 2012T-50 (T.A.) (Claudette Ross, arbitrator).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Kassandra Church
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
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).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions