Singer, of the Toronto law firm of McMillan Binch, adds, "Many employers traditionally think of harassment as 'sexual harassment' and design policies to address these types of incidents, leaving employees to settle conflicts between themselves.
In an article written for the Mondaq newsletter (www.mondaq.com), Singer reveals the province of Quebec, recognizing that harassment takes many forms, has outlawed what it calls "psychological harassment" in the workplace. Moreover, Bill C-451, which was introduced at the federal level, proposes to prohibit this type of harassment under the Canada Labour Code.
Enforcement of Bill C-451 starts on June 1. The law defines psychological harassment as: "Any vexatious behavior in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures, that affects an employee's dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that results in a harmful work environment for the employee. A single serious incidence of such behavior that has a lasting harmful effect on an employee may also constitute psychological harassment."
"Like it or not, this issue is not going away and employers are best advised to deal with the matter head-on," Singer advises. "A proactive stance will aid in combating the effects of workplace harassment, which manifest themselves in a number of ways including decreased productivity, increased sick leave due to stress-related illnesses, high staff turnover and low morale."
Singer says workplace harassment may also be a health and safety concern, adding, "Employers have a general duty under occupational health and safety legislation to take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of their employees; this can mean both physical harm and mental harm."
She suggests employers write, implement and communicate to employees a harassment policy aimed at preventing and handling all forms of harassment, including psychological harassment.
"The policy should define types of behavior that constitute harassment and convey the message that all employees must maintain a safe workplace," said Singer. The policy, she added, should establish a system for the investigation of complaints and outline the confidentiality of the process and the consequences of violating the policy.
Singer offers this list of general tips for protecting the workplace:
- Educate everyone that workplace harassment is a serious concern and ensure that all managers, supervisors and employees understand their responsibilities in prevention;
- Try to identify and work out solutions before situations escalate;
- Implement a workplace policy that includes a confidential reporting system and investigation process;
- Treat all complaints seriously and respond to them promptly;
- Assure employees that no reprisals will be made against employees who make allegations in good faith;
- Be fair and consistent when dealing with allegations;
- Commit to providing support services for those who need it; and
- Commit to fulfilling the prevention training needs of different personnel.