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Workplace harassment

Everybody has bad workplace stories. Unfortunately, some stories could signal that the worker is experiencing workplace harassment.

However, sometimes the concept of what constitutes workplace harassment has people stumped.

What is workplace harassment?

The treasury board, through its policy on harassment prevention and resolution, describes workplace harassment as being “improper conduct by an individual, that is directed at and offensive to another individual in the workplace, including at any event or any location related to work, and that the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm.”

Workplace harassment is a form of discrimination often based on prohibited discrimination grounds, such as race, colour, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation and marital status.

Harassment can occur over time in a series of events or it can be one single significant event. However, most often it’s the repetition of several acts that show that harassment has occurred.

According to federal and provincial/territorial legislation, employers have a duty to address and deal with workplace harassment that includes protecting the mental and physical health of employees. Courts and legislation are increasingly addressing the need for more protections for workers at the workplace.

What can an employer do to deal with workplace harassment?

Employees can often put in place preventative measures to ensure that harassment will not become an issue in the workplace, including:

  • Create written workplace policies and anti-harassment policies;
  • Train employees on what harassment is and explain that this behaviour will not be tolerated;        
  • Put a reporting mechanism in place that allows an employee to report incidents of harassment to management;
  • Remain aware of what goes on in the workplace environment;
  • Put policies in place to protect employees not just from harassment by other employees, but also customers and other members of the public;
  • Include harassment in health and risk assessments done in the workplace to see how many employees are possibly affected by it, and more.

If harassment has already occurred, the employer has to deal with it by doing things such as:

  • Respect the reporting mechanism and investigate any reports of workplace harassment by employers;
  • Discipline employees who do not follow workplace policies on harassment and for actually taking part in workplace harassment;
  • Disclose incidents of workplace violence and harassment to the health and safety committee;
  • Keep a record on incidences of workplace harassments and investigations.

How does workplace harassment differ from bullying or violence?

In essence, they are not that different and a worker can be subjected to both harassment and bullying at the same time.

Workplace bullying is behaviour that is unreasonable, inappropriate and repeated, which is directed against a worker – or group of workers – and which creates a risk to the safety and health of those workers.

Some bullying behaviour can include:

  • Physical abuse or the threat of abuse;
  • Isolating someone or excluding them;
  • Intimidating a person, and more.

Likely one of the major differences between workplace harassment and bullying is that harassment is a form of discrimination.

If you feel you are being harassed at work check your workplace policies to whom you can report the harassment to. If you are not comfortable reporting the harassment you may want to consult a lawyer.

Read more:

What is harassment

Is it Harassment? A Tool to Guide Employees