Publications
May 2009
Human Ressources

PSYCHOLOGICAL HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE: IT'S NO LAUGHING MATTER

By Félix Rochon

Almost five years ago, new provisions in the Labour Standards Act came into effect that defined the notion of psychological harassment in the workplace and established the principle that employees in Quebec have the right to enjoy a respectful working environment. This legislation was the first of its kind in North America.

According to the law, psychological harassment is defined as "any vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures, that affects an employee's dignity or psychological and physical integrity and that result in a harmful work environment for the employee."

Under these new provisions in the law, employers must meet two primary obligations:

1. They must take reasonable action to prevent psychological harassment.

2. They must put a stop to conduct indicating psychological harassment, as soon as they are made aware of it.

There are a number of practical steps employers can take to prevent psychological harassment from occurring in their companies. These include:

a) Establish a policy forbidding psychological harassment.

b) Show appreciation for employees and their work.

c) Take prompt action if harassment occurs.

d) Encourage open discussion if an employee claims they are a victim of harassment.

Employers have a lot to gain by taking the necessary action to prevent psychological harassment since any employer that neglects to do so may be subject to a formal complaint and legal proceedings by any employees who are victims of psychological harassment.

In fact, over the last year, the Labour Relations Commission ordered employers to pay more than $25,000,000 in punitive and moral damages to employees who were victims of psychological harassment because the employer either participated in the harassment or neglected to take the necessary action to prevent it.

Given these facts, it is in every employer's interest to establish an anti-harassment policy and make sure that it is enforced.

Last but not least, please make sure to contact your labour relations lawyer if you have any questions about harassment in the workplace.