What Is Workplace Harassment?
In Canada, employees have the legal right to enjoy a workplace free of harassment— an umbrella term that covers a wide variety of unwanted behavior. Workplace issues may be complex, but all levels of government and ethics watchdog organizations are united in condemning and punishing those who commit, condone or ignore harassment. Keep reading for Heritage Law’s introductory guide to workplace harassment.
HARASSMENT IS ILLEGAL
According to the Government of Canada’s Renewed Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution, the term harassment means:
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 offense or harm. It comprises objectionable act(s), comment(s) or display(s) that demean, belittle, or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat. It also includes harassment within the meaning of the Canadian Human Rights Act (i.e. based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, and pardoned conviction)
Severe incidents can be punished due to a significant and lasting impact on the victim, but usually, more than one event is required for the actions to be considered harassment.
HARASSMENT CAN HAPPEN ANYWHERE
Harassment is not limited to the physical space where the majority of business is conducted, the workplace can include (but is not limited to):
- Employer-sponsored events, including social functions;
- Employer-sponsored seminars, training sessions, team building activities, etc.;
- Conferences or meetings attended on behalf of the employer;
- Offsite or abroad when traveling as a representative of the employer.
SPECIFIC CRITERIA DEFINES HARASSMENT
The reality of harassment is sensitive and complex, but there are guidelines to help determine the substantiveness of allegations. Criteria may include:
- Number and severity of incidents;
- Location of the incident(s);
- Perpetrator’s ability to understand the offensiveness of their actions;
- Offense or harm experienced;
- Direction or vector of the harassment;
- Consideration of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
HARASSMENT SHOULD BE REPORTED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
While victims may not be able to report workplace harassment immediately, there is a twelve (12) month deadline to make the complaint. If related to the incident that incited the complaint, you may include details of harassment beyond this time limit. If there are extenuating circumstances– such as a threat to your health or safety– this window may be disregarded, but this should be verified by a legal professional as soon as possible.
The information above is only a summary of the complexities that define instances of workplace harassment. In addition to government regulations, businesses may have expanded policies to further protect their employees. All of these aspects and many others can impact your legal rights in the workplace. If you feel that you are a victim of harassment, contact or visit Heritage Law immediately.