Psychological Harassment At Work

Please note that the following has been taken directly from the Commission des Normes du Quebec (Quebec Labor Standards) and applies to workers in this Canadian province. It has been copied here for you and it may be out of date.

Psychological harassment at work

What is psychological harassment in the work place?

Psychological harassment is vexatious behaviour that manifests itself in the form of conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures characterized by the following four criteria:

They are repetitive*;
They are hostile or unwanted;
They affect the person’s dignity or psychological integrity, and
They result in a harmful work environment.

Sexual harassment at work is also included in this definition.

What is vexatious behaviour?
It is humiliating or abusive behaviour that lowers a person’s self-esteem or causes him torment.

It is also behaviour that exceeds what the person considers to be appropriate and reasonable in the performance of his work.

Psychological harassment may come from a superior, a colleague, a group of colleagues, a customer, a supplier…

* A single serious incidence of such behaviour may also constitute psychological harassment if it undermines the person’s psychological or physical integrity and if it has a lasting harmful effect.

A few common ways in which harassment is expressed

Making rude, degrading or offensive remarks.
Making gestures that seek to intimidate, engaging in reprisals.
Discrediting the person: spreading rumors, ridiculing him, humiliating him, calling into question his convictions or his private life, shouting abuse at him or sexually harassing him.
Belittling the person: forcing him to perform tasks that are belittling or below his skills, simulating professional misconduct.
Preventing the person from expressing himself: yelling at him, threatening him, constantly interrupting him, prohibiting him from speaking to others.
Isolating the person: no longer talking to him at all, denying his presence, distancing him from others.
Destabilizing the person: making fun of his convictions, his tastes and his political choices.

Management rights and normal conditions of employment

Psychological harassment must not be confused with the normal exercise of the employer’s management rights, in particular his right to assign tasks and his right to reprimand or impose disciplinary sanctions.

Insofar as the employer does not exercise these rights in an abusive or discriminatory manner, his actions do not constitute psychological harassment.

Prevention first

Prevention in the undertaking remains the best means of combating psychological harassment. It is the employer’s responsibility to take reasonable steps to prevent psychological harassment and to put a stop to such behaviour when it is brought to his knowledge.

Sound management practices

Promote respectful interpersonal communication.
Manage the members of his staff fairly.
Take quick and appropriate action to manage conflicts; do not allow the situation to deteriorate.
Clearly define the responsibilities and tasks of each employee.
Put in place in his undertaking a procedure that is known, efficient, credible and adapted to reality, to allow persons to report cases of harassment confidentially.
Resort, in certain cases, to specialized resources to help put a stop to a psychological harassment situation and to prevent other such situations from arising.

What should you do in the event of psychological harassment at work?

Wherever possible:

Talk about the problem you are experiencing with someone that you are close to, a person that you trust. Do not remain isolated;
Express very clearly to the person who is the source of the unwanted behaviour your wish to see such behaviour cease immediately.
Check inside the undertaking if there is a procedure making it possible to report the unwanted behaviour confidentially.
Bring the matter to the attention of your employer who must put a stop to this behaviour by taking appropriate steps.

The Act respecting Labor Standards provides a recourse in the event of psychological harassment at work, which is available to every employee, whether unionized, non-unionized, or at the senior managerial level. The Act sets a 90-day period to file a complaint