Three Things to Know about Harassment in the Workplace

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You probably have some idea what types of behaviour constitute psychological or sexual harassment in the workplace, but you may not know what the law provides. Here are three things to help you understand how — and in what situations — employees are protected against workplace harassment.  

1. The behaviour must meet certain criteria to be considered harassment.

Psychological harassment at work involves bothersome (also called “vexatious”) behaviour. It usually involves repeated acts, but a single incident may constitute harassment if it is sufficiently serious. Harassment can take many forms, including: 

  • preventing someone from expressing themselves 
  • isolating, insulting or humiliating them 
  • threatening, assaulting or disrupting them 

If you’re unsure whether you’re experiencing harassment, here are some questions that you can ask yourself: 

  1. Is the behaviour bothersome? (also known as “vexatious”) 
  1. Is the behaviour repeated? (or a single serious incident) 
  1. Is the behaviour hostile or unwanted? 
  1. Has it affected your dignity or physical or psychological well-being? 
  1. Has it created a harmful work environment? 

If you answered “yes” to all these questions, then chances are you have experienced psychological harassment at work. 

Employees can ask for assistance if they are experiencing a difficult situation, even if these criteria are not all met.  

2. Employees are protected regardless of who commits the harassment. 

It doesn’t matter who commits the bothersome behaviour. Harassment can occur, for example: 

  • between work colleagues, 
  • between an employer and an employee 

But also: 

  • between a client and an employee 
  • between a supplier and an employee 

3. The intent behind the behaviour doesn’t matter.   

Whether an employee is suffering harassment is determined by what a “reasonable person” would think is unacceptable in the same situation. A joke that one person thinks is “innocent” could be experienced as harassment by a reasonable person without the speaker intending to hurt the other person. Employees are entitled to a workplace free of harassment. 

Did you know? 

Éducaloi recently added the workshop Working: not at all cost! to the list of workshops available to inform young people about their rights in the workplace.

Teachers can register their classes on the educationjurdique.ca website. A volunteer legal professional will be matched with their class and will lead a workshop involving a quiz and a discussion of workplace scenarios.

This project was made possible with the financial support of the CNESST (workplace health and safety and labour standards commission) through its program to combat psychological and sexual harassment in the workplace.