What is Harassment?

Harassment is essentially seriously inappropriate or damaging behaviour which affects people. In an employment context, harassment is any seriously inappropriate behaviour which affects people at work. At work means both a workplace and work activities. Work should be a place free of harassment, retaliation and violence for everyone.

 The legal definition of harassment is:

Improper conduct by an individual or group of individuals, that is directed at and offensive to another individual in the workplace, including at any event or any location related to work. It comprises objectionable act(s), comment(s) and/or display(s) that demean, belittle, or cause any humiliation or embarrassment, and/or any act of intimidation or threat.

Harassment is often a series of incidents, either by a group or an individual, but can also be one severe incident. Harassment can be psychological, verbal, physical, or sexual in nature, or any combination thereof. Only a labour and employment lawyer can answer some of those questions.

 While the facts vary and harassment must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, the basic takeaway is this: all employees have a right to a workplace that is free of harassment and violence. The intent of the person or people accused has some relevance but it is not the only factor. Ultimately, the employer is responsible for providing all employees with a workplace (including all activities connected to work) free of harassment and violence.

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What to do if you are being or have been harassed?

Being harassed is a difficult situation for anyone to deal with. While there are a number of power imbalances that make harassment especially distressing for normal employees, there are also aggravating factors for executives and managers. It can be humiliating and there may be a lot of pressure to keep silent, either to save face or to save your employers reputation or even to prevent you from getting a reputation as “difficult”. Harassment is a deeply personal situation.

 If you are or have been a victim of harassment it is only right to want justice and a fair solution. Perhaps the harassment has not stopped. Perhaps your employer is either part of the problem or has not done enough to help. You need to be able to work in peace. Unfortunately, harassment claims can be difficult to prove. Too often harassment victims are forced to leave their positions and walk away with no compensation. That isn’t right. However, taking the right action at the right time can make a big difference in the result you obtain.

What to do

  • Keep careful notes and documentation on everything that is going on
  • Do not gossip about this situation in the workplace
  • Consult a lawyer ASAP to determine: what you want, what the best plan for achieving it is, and how to execute the plan

False harassment claims

A false harassment claim is one of those things that cuts both ways. It diminishes the value of legitimate harassment cases and it can ruin the reputation of the accused. For the accused, a ruined reputation can follow you, damaging your chances of finding another job. It can also be used as cause for dismissal, minimizing the amount of compensation you are owed for job loss.

 If an executive or manager has been falsely accused of harassment this can have long-term implications for them. Harassment is a serious offence. A harassment allegation is something which can follow you. If an accusation of harassment is based on allegations which are untrue, out-of-context, or exaggerated, you may wish to fight the allegation and protect your reputation.

What to do in case of harassment

  •  Get legal counsel immediately
  •  Do not discuss this situation with anyone employed by your employer
  •  Do not meet with HR or an “independent investigator” without first getting legal advice
  •  Do not confront the victim
  •  Do not attempt to resolve the situation yourself
  •  Do not attempt to influence anyone’s testimony
  •  Do not retaliate against anyone involved in the harassment inquiry

 Harassment is a serious issue that deserves to be taken seriously. By making sure legitimate harassment claims are resolved and false harassment claims are disproven, it is the best way to make very unfair circumstances as fair as possible. Everyone has the right to an environment free of harassment. In an employment context, this means a workplace and work activities free of harassment, false accusations, and retaliation for everyone.

Understanding Workplace Harassment

Workplace harassment can take various forms, including:

  1. Verbal Harassment: This involves offensive or derogatory comments, slurs, or insults directed at individuals based on their race, gender, age, religion, or other protected characteristics.
  2. Non-Verbal Harassment: Non-verbal forms of harassment include gestures, offensive jokes, offensive written or graphic material, or displaying offensive images.
  3. Physical Harassment: Physical harassment involves unwelcome physical contact, invasion of personal space, or any form of physical intimidation or aggression.
  4. Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or any other conduct of a sexual nature that creates a hostile work environment.

Effects of Workplace Harassment

Workplace harassment can have severe effects on individuals and the overall work environment. These effects may include:

  1. Emotional and Psychological Impact: Harassment can cause emotional distress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues in the targeted individuals. It can also create a general sense of fear, tension, and discomfort among employees.
  2. Reduced Productivity: When employees experience harassment, their focus and motivation can be significantly affected, leading to a decline in productivity and work performance.
  3. Increased Absenteeism: Harassment can result in increased absenteeism as individuals may try to avoid the hostile work environment or experience stress-related health issues.
  4. Retention and Turnover: Employees who experience harassment may choose to leave the organization, leading to talent loss and potential negative impact on employee retention.

Importance of a Safe and Respectful Work Environment

Maintaining a safe and respectful work environment is crucial for several reasons:

  1. Employee Well-being: A safe and respectful work environment promotes the well-being and mental health of employees, fostering a positive and supportive workplace culture.
  2. Productivity and Performance: When employees feel safe, respected, and valued, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and productive in their work.
  3. Legal Compliance: Organizations have a legal obligation to provide a workplace free from harassment and discrimination. Compliance with applicable laws and regulations is essential to avoid legal repercussions.
  4. Reputation and Employer Branding: Organizations that prioritize a safe and respectful work environment build a positive reputation and enhance their employer branding, attracting and retaining top talent.

Preventing and Addressing Workplace Harassment

Organizations can take proactive steps to prevent and address workplace harassment, including:

  1. Establishing Clear Policies: Implementing comprehensive anti-harassment policies that clearly define prohibited behaviors, outline reporting procedures, and emphasize zero tolerance for harassment.
  2. Training and Awareness Programs: Providing regular training sessions to employees and managers on identifying, preventing, and addressing workplace harassment. This includes educating individuals about their rights and responsibilities.
  3. Encouraging Reporting: Creating a culture that encourages employees to report incidents of harassment without fear of retaliation, and ensuring that all reports are taken seriously and handled confidentially.
  4. Prompt and Thorough Investigations: Conducting thorough investigations into reported incidents of harassment, respecting the rights of all parties involved, and taking appropriate action based on investigation findings.
  5. Support and Resources: Providing access to support services, such as counseling or employee assistance programs, to individuals who experience harassment or witness such incidents.