Posted: Jul 9, 2018
Harassment in the workplace can take many forms, such as the use of derogatory or offensive comments and jokes, stereotypes, names and other behavior that is insulting or disparaging. It also can include assigning you work that is undesirable or inconsistent with your job title and experience, such as assigning you to perform menial tasks without justification. Yet another common form of harassment is threatening and intimidating behavior, such as unwarranted yelling or threats of physical violence. Many other types of negative conduct can be part of a hostile work environment if it is directed at you because of your age, gender, race, disability or the fact that you are in another legally protected category. A "hostile work environment" is created when the environment becomes hostile to members of a protected class. A mean, unfair boss has done nothing illegal if they are equally mean to all types of people.
Many employees who have been subjected to work place harassment or a hostile work environment often feel that ignoring or minimizing the wrongdoing is easier than taking action. Experience has shown that this can be a serious mistake. Instead, immediate action may be required to protect yourself and to prevent any escalation in the behavior which is important for the employer too.
Creating a healthy workplace is a shared responsibility. Each situation is unique and the approach varies depending on the specific circumstances. Restoring the workplace requires leadership commitment, and intentional, sustained efforts to change the culture of a work team or organization.
Harassment in the workplace falls under Human Rights and Employment Law. Seeking legal counsel will depend on your particular circumstance. The duties from legal counsel can vary from communicating directly with the employer to ensure that the person has a fair and unbiased resolution to the complaint and actions taken by the employer, to helping a client know when and how to make a formal complaint, what the process is and what their rights are. Legal counsel can also assist if there is an investigation taking place based on a complaint.
In Canada, the laws on workplace harassment can vary in each province under their specific workplace health and safety legislation. Here in BC we have the Workers Compensation Act. Keep in mind that employers are expected to develop and implement policies in line with the legislation in their province. For example, in BC, pursuant to the Occupational Health and Safety policies under the Workers Compensation Act, employers are responsible for:
- Developing policies on bullying and harassment.
- Minimizing bullying and harassment.
- Developing procedure to report incidents and complaints.
- Informing employees of relevant policies and processes.
- Training employees, including supervisors, to recognize, prevent and report harassment.
- Conducting an annual review of policies and procedures.
Under WorkSafeBC, employees may be entitled to compensation for mental disorders if they are shown to be caused by bullying and harassment in the workplace. Employees may also seek damages from the employer for mental suffering related to workplace harassment under the BC Human Rights Code.
If you are ever in a situation where you are unsure of your rights, it is always best to seek counsel either through your employer’s workplace harassment team, or through your own legal counsel.