Workplace Harassment – An Open Discussion
Workplace harassment is illegal in Ontario. We introduced legislation under the Ontario Health and Safety Act specifically to address and eradicate it in 2009. You have the right to work in a safe and healthy workplace. Harassment sometimes escalates to violence if left unchecked. It causes mental and physical health problems and it leads to staff absences. Ultimately, it creates a toxic workplace ripe for constructive dismissal and wrongful dismissal cases. There is little reason why any employer should stand by and do nothing about this terrible behaviour. It benefits nobody. In fact, all employers should deal with workplace harassment swiftly and decisively.
In September 2016, the Ontario government updated workplace harassment laws. This came after public outrage at the CBC’s inaction with employee complaints that ultimately resulted in firing Jian Ghomeshi. Today, all employers must investigate and resolve complaints of harassment and implement disciplinary actions, as necessary.
Bullying & Workplace Harassment
Bullying at work looks just like it did in the school yard. Unfortunately, some individuals never outgrow this behaviour. Well into their adulthood, they bring their aggressive personalities to the office and continue to inflict the same harm on others. But this time around it is against the law.
Here are examples of bullying – You get berated, humiliated in front of others, isolated and subjected to malicious gossip and rumours. Some employers condone and engage in this type of behaviour as a means of control.
The correct thing to do in this case is to approach your HR department. Before you do this however, understand that sometimes this is precisely when things could get worse for you. If the perpetrator is a “star employee” or in an executive position, then you might have trouble finding resolution. In spite of the law, some HR managers may not be willing to step into such messy situations, especially to defend a new or junior employee. To make the problem go away, you could be pegged the troublemaker and end up getting fired, instead!
Almost always, this situation requires legal intervention. The earlier you bring us in, the better are your chances to salvage your job.
Workplace Harassment after a Maternity or Illness Leave
In our experience, employees returning from maternity leave or an illness are most susceptible to workplace harassment. This is when some employers start comparing you to the person who filled in for you. Perhaps they will decide that you are less-than-productive.
New parents frequently require time off to care for sick infants. And they also fall ill more often from viruses their kids bring home from daycare and school. Employees returning from illness or disability leave face similar problems. Your manager may unnecessarily scrutinize you for not being fully productive and up to speed right away, especially if you returned without a clearly prescribed gradual return or accommodation plan from your doctor.
When your employer starts looking at you through a productivity lens, you will most likely be subjected to a demotion, an unreasonable workload or underhanded harassment. You may be excluded from team meetings on purpose and actively set up to fail. Employees in this situation expect to be fired at any moment. We have handled numerous cases of employees returning from stress and mental health leave, only to have their illness relapse because of such unnecessary harassment. Some people simply give up and end up quitting.
Once again, this type of harassment is completely illegal. Consulting with us early in the process allows us to manage your case properly.
This constitutes the most egregious form of workplace harassment. Sexual harassment undermines an individual’s sense of personal dignity. It can prevent them from doing their job effectively and reaching their full potential.
Sexual harassment includes behaviors like unwelcome sexual advances and requests for sexual favours. It can present as sexual comments and suggestive jokes. Physically it manifests itself as unwelcome touching or brushing up against a person. Sexual harassment can sometimes escalate to violence and completed sexual assault.
Both women and men experience sexual harassment at work. However, women tend to be more vulnerable because they usually hold lower-paying jobs and have less authority compared to men. Regardless, even women in positions of authority can experience sexual harassment.
How We Help with Workplace Harassment
Our lawyers can help in many ways. We will treat you with respect and review your case without judgment and in total confidence. Our first concern will be your safety and well being. Secondly, we look at protecting your means of earning a living.
We can coach you on documenting and obtaining proof of the harassment. We can also educate your employer about the law. And if the situation has escalated to a point of no resolution, we will put up a good fight to negotiate a wrongful dismissal severance package, ensuring it is in line with your pain and suffering. If you quit unwillingly due to workplace harassment, we can always pursue a constructive dismissal case.
Workplace harassment is completely against the law. There is no reason why any employee in Ontario should feel victimized by it. Contact us for a review of your case.
Our law protects you from harassment at every step of the employment process. This includes the recruiting period, after you are hired and even when you are disciplined or fired. Contacting us as early as possible in the process will help us manage this to your benefit.
Have you ever given up your seat on the subway or held open a door for a disabled person?