Harassment At Work: How To Recognize It and What To Do

Harcèlement au travail Publié le 24 July 2020 Par

We have all seen the distressing new reports about harassment in various Quebec workplaces. This behaviour is completely unacceptable. There is no place for harassment in the workplace, and this must be addressed immediately.

Before continuing, we believe it is imprtant to begin with the legal definition of psychological or sexual harassment.

As defined by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, harassment is:

“A form of discrimination. This is any unwanted physical or verbal behavior that offends or humiliates. In general, bullying is behavior that persists over time. Serious one-off incidents can sometimes also be considered harassment.”

How To Recognize A Form of Harassment

Harassment can take many different forms, including sexual, physical and psychological forms. Victims of these behaviours are often reluctant to speak about it for multiple reasons, which can include shame and stigma, fear of reprisals, fear of losing their jobs or because of the slowness of administrative and judicial procedures related to these forms of discrimination.

All employees have a responsibility to look out for one another and recognize if their colleague is being harassed. To do so, people must be aware of the different forms that harassment can take.

Referring to the definition found on the Government of Canada website, workplace harassment therefore encompasses harassment based on race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, age, sexual orientation, marital status, disability and state of the pardoned person.

As defined by the Government of Canada, harassment in the workplace is the repeated and persistent attempt to torment, diminish or frustrate or elicit a reaction from someone. It is persistent behavior that frightens, intimidates, or puts pressure on another person.

“Harassment consists of repeated and persistent behaviours towards an individual to torment, undermine, frustrate or provoke a reaction from that person. It is a behaviour that with persistence, pressures, frightens, intimidates or incapacitates another person. Each behaviour viewed individually may seem inoffensive; it is the synergy and repetitive characteristic of the behaviours that produce harmful effects. However, one single incident can constitute harassment when it is demonstrated that it is severe and has a significant and lasting impact on the complainant.” 

Government of Canada  

What To Do If You Are Being Harassed

In a 2016 Canadian survey, 18.2% of women and 13.6% of men said they had experienced some form of harassment at work. This is unacceptable, despite the various awareness campaigns and policies to combat all forms of harassment at work. We must continue to raise awareness and denounce all forms of discrimination and harassment.

If you have been the victim of harassment or discrimination in the workplace, report it as soon as possible. In the province of Quebec, there are specific procedures that you can initiate if you are a victim of harassment. The CNT (Commission des normes du travail) can receive your complaints within 90 days of the last incident of harassment and address the situation. Be aware that the Act respecting labor standards protects you in the event of reprisals from your employer or any other person affected by the complaint.

Policies Must Be Clear and Enforced

According to a 2018 Angus Reid poll, 72% of people did not report sexual harassment experienced at work. This is an issue that cannot go unaddressed and cannot be trivialized.

This statistic shows how much work there is still to be done in preventing harassment in the workplace. Every workplace needs clear and explicit policies to prevent this kind of behaviour and help and protect the victims.

Of course, these policies can only be effective if they are accompanied by in-house training and increased awareness. If you are a human resources manager in a company, do everything you can to ensure that the company’s policy regarding harassment and discrimination to known to all employees and is enforced in every instance. If you value your corporate culture, it is absolutely necessary to have this policy known to every single department and employee, and make sure they know how to report any and all harassment and discrimation.

A Safe Work Environment for All

Nothing can justify harassment and discrimation in the workplace. It is wrong and unacceptable in all of its forms. Every workplace needs to do everything possible to prevent harassment and make it clear what kind of behaviour will not be tolerated or accepted. We all must work together in order to create a work environment that is safe for every single person.

Examples of Situations of Harassment

Recognizing a situation of harassment at work is not always easy. This is often mixed with a toxic and noxious work climate. The Government of Canada has written multiple examples of situations of harassment to aid understanding. We have included some in this article for informative purposes, and encourage everyone to consult the government website to learn more.

What does not constitute harassment

Bob is a supervisor. Dan, one of his staff consistently does not finish his tasks and leaves them for the person on the next shift. Bob has spoken to him twice in a courteous manner and has left him two notes. As Dan’s performance does not improve, Bob meets him again to discuss work objectives, standards and deadlines.

What may constitute harassment

Bob meets with Dan a third time and becomes impatient with him by raising his voice during the meeting and by making accusatory statements such as you are incompetent.

What is harassment

Bob speaks to Dan in a belittling and demeaning manner and calls him a slow, lazy and incompetent person. He has threatened to fire him on more than one occasion if he doesn’t shape up and has warned him that there are lots of people waiting in line to take his place. In a fit of rage, Bob throws Dan’s report in the garbage and laughs sarcastically at Dan.

Dan feels that Bob had been rude to him by making degrading and offensive comments and fears Bob’s behaviour towards him. He feels his livelihood is also being threatened.