Workplace Harassment in Canada: Creating a Safe Work Culture

happy employees
Roberts and Obradovic Law Firm
December 27 2023

Unfortunately, workplace harassment persists in Canada, affecting employees across different industries. Its continuing prevalence underscores the need to implement effective prevention and treatment strategies. A safe work culture is critical to maintaining a healthy and productive workforce. This article provides an overview of workplace harassment. We outline the legal principles of work harassment and explore adequate strategies to prevent and manage it.

Workplace Harassment

In Canada, Workplace harassment is legally characterized as occurring when an individual engages in a course of vexatious action, conduct or comment against a worker in a workplace that can be expected to cause offence, humiliation or other physical or psychological injury or illness to an employee, including any prescribed action, conduct or comment. This includes actions based on race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or any other protected ground under laws such as human rights codes. Such behaviors, among others, encompass explicit jokes, slurs, persistent intimidation, and cyberbullying.

Legal Framework

In Canada, workplace harassment is addressed federally with the Canada Labour. The provinces have their own standards and codes. These documents outline the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees. Some of them, especially at a provincial level, legally require employers to prevent and address workplace harassment.

The following are some of the legally mandated steps an employer must take to address workplace harassment:

  • Maintaining a Workplace Harassment Policy: Employers must establish a clear policy addressing workplace harassment and review it regularly.
  • Implementing a Harassment Reporting Program: Involves the development of a program that outlines how employees can make complaints or report incidents of workplace harassment. The program should also detail how these complaints will be investigated and addressed.
  • Provide Information and Training: It is necessary to ensure that all employees are informed about the company’s harassment policy and programs, providing the related training on this topic.
  • Collaborate with Safety Committees/Representatives: If applicable, employers must involve the joint health and safety committee or representative in the development and maintenance of the written program.
  • Conduct Thorough Investigations: Employers must ensure that a proper investigation is carried out for any reported incidents or complaints of workplace harassment.
  • Inform Involved Parties of Investigation Outcomes: All parties involved in a harassment incident must be informed, in a written manner, about the results of the investigation and upcoming corrective actions.
  • Regularly Review the Harassment Program: Employers are required to review the workplace harassment program as frequently as necessary, but at least once a year, to ensure its effectiveness.

Work Harassment Prevention Strategies

Creating a comprehensive anti-harassment policy is essential in order to prevent workplace harassment. This policy should characterize prohibited behaviors, reporting mechanisms, and the steps that must be taken to address complaints. Implementing policies is not always enough.

Effective leadership is crucial in the prevention of workplace harassment, as it establishes the foundation for a culture of professionalism and respect in the workplace. Developing and maintaining the right workplace culture by setting the tone from the top can in itself discourage harassment.

Other important prevention tools include training programs and awareness campaigns. They serve to inform employees about their rights and responsibilities, including how to detect signs of harassment and report it.

Reporting and Investigation

Developing effective reporting mechanisms enables victims to speak out about harassment without fear of retaliation. Employees should be allowed a safe space where they can open up and share their stories. When complaints are received, organizations must conduct fair and thorough investigations, ensuring that all parties involved are treated with respect and impartiality. Confidentiality is of utter importance in this process.

Handling Workplace Harassment Complaints

Resolving complaints requires employers to carefully consider their legal and ethical obligations. Organizations have a duty to take corrective action to address and rectify instances of harassment. Balancing the rights of the accused with the rights of the victim is a delicate process that demands sensitivity and impartiality.

Promoting a Safe Work Culture

Fostering a culture of respect and inclusion is an ongoing endeavor that requires commitment at all levels of an organization. Diversity and inclusion initiatives play a vital role in creating an environment where every employee feels valued and respected. Encouraging bystander intervention empowers employees to speak up when they witness harassment, further reinforcing a culture of accountability.

Legal Risks and Liabilities

Failing to address workplace harassment can have severe legal consequences for organizations. Recent legal developments and case law underscore the importance of taking proactive steps to prevent and address harassment. Strategies for minimizing legal risks include robust policy development, thorough training, and timely, impartial investigations.

Creating a safe work culture and implementing workplace procedures and policies to address harassment in the workplace is not only a legal obligation for employers, but also a moral imperative. Preventing and addressing work harassment allows organizations to foster an environment where employees can thrive and prosper. It is incumbent upon leaders, managers, and employees alike to champion a culture of respect and inclusion, ultimately ensuring a healthier, more productive work environment for all. If you’re going through a workplace harassment case, it is essential to seek an employment lawyer before taking any action.

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