Psychological harassment is a form of harmful behaviour that consists of repeated hostile and unwanted words, behaviours or actions. Psychological harassment includes behavior that is painful, hurtful, annoying, humiliating or insulting.
In such situations, the victim’s dignity and psychological or physical health are threatened and the work environment becomes toxic.
Your CNESST lawyer Mr. Bruno Bégin explains what you can do if you think you are a victim of psychological harassment at work.
What does the law say about psychological harassment in the workplace?
The Act respecting labour standards in Quebec and the Canada Labour Code govern the protection of employees against any harassment in the workplace. The law protects employees against psychological harassment even when they are working remotely.
It is important to note that these laws do not protect self-employed workers.
What must employers do to protect their employees from psychological harassment?
In Quebec, the law requires employers to have a policy on the prevention of harassment and the handling of complaints. This policy must clearly indicate who is responsible for assisting victims of psychological harassment at their workplace, and how a victim may file a complaint.
The law also requires employers to prevent psychological harassment in the workplace. It doesn’t matter if the harassment comes from a client, a colleague or even a supplier: your employer must act as soon as they are made aware of a harassment situation.
What to do if you experience harassment at work
There are several ways you can take action if you think you are a victim of psychological harassment at work:
Inform your employer or union
The first thing you can do is inform your employer of the situation. Your employer has an obligation to act if they are aware of harassment.
If you don’t know where to turn, check your workplace harassment policy. It should indicate who receives harassment complaints within your organization.
Contact a workplace harassment lawyer
It can be difficult to prove the existence of psychological harassment. In order to prove it before a judge, you will need convincing evidence. Here are some examples of evidence that may be considered for a psychological harassment claim:
- Phone messages or emails sent by the perpetrator to the victim
- Medical records showing that the victim has mental health problems directly resulting from the harassment
- Professional complaints from the victim’s workplace
- Testimonials from people who witnessed the psychological harassment or whom the victim spoke with about what was happening to them
A victim compensation law firm in Montreal that specializes in labour law can help you understand your rights or even guide you though the process if, for example, you wish to file a complaint against a co-worker.
File a complaint with the CNESST or the Human Rights Commission
If you are a victim of psychological harassment at work, you can file a complaint with the CNESST. This organization will analyze the complaint and, if necessary, request an investigation.
It is important to note:
- You have 2 years from the last event of psychological harassment to file a complaint
- If you are absent from work because of the harassment, you can file a claim for a work accident with the CNESST
You can also file a complaint with the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (CDPDJ).
Prosecute the aggressor or report to the police
Finally, you can sue your abuser for damages or file a complaint with the police if you think their behaviour constitutes a criminal act.
Even if you are permitted to defend yourself without a legal professional, you should always consult an employment lawyer or a specialized organization if you need help.
How do you know if you are a victim of psychological harassment at work?
If you are unsure whether you are being psychologically harassed at work, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the behaviour in question abusive, humiliating or offensive?
- Has the behaviour occurred more than once, or was there a single serious event?
- Is the behaviour hostile and upsetting?
- Does it make your work environment harmful to your well-being?
Have you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions? It is likely that you are being harassed at work. Let’s look at each of these points in more detail.
1. Damage to dignity and well-being
Harmful behaviour is usually directed at the victim’s dignity, or psychological or physical well-being. This often leads to a loss of self-esteem, psychological or emotional imbalance or health problems for the victim.
The victim may also experience various disorders such as depression, memory problems, discouragement, irritability, isolation, lack of self-confidence and self-esteem, fatigue, or sleep irregularity, etc. as a result of the behaviour.
2. Repetition and severity of harassment
The behaviour in question must take place repeatedly to qualify as harassment. However, the number of repetitions necessary to constitute harassment varies depending on the severity of the behaviour, words or actions and their effect on the victim.
A single serious incident may constitute harassment if it produces a lasting harmful effect on the victim. It is best to act quickly to prevent the situation from deteriorating. If no effort is made to stop it, the workplace harassment may continue and worsen.
3. Hostile behaviour
Hostile behaviour is intended to inflict harm. The victim does not need to have clearly expressed disagreement with each behaviour, comment or action for it to be considered unwanted.
Malicious intent is not required for an act to be considered unwanted. Victims of such behaviour have a responsibility to express their disagreement and ask the perpetrator to stop.
4. Toxic work environment
The unpleasant behaviour makes the work environment toxic. The victim no longer wants to be there and becomes extremely uncomfortable at the workplace.
This video from the CNESST presents a case of psychological harassment at work involving two colleagues.
Are you struggling to determine whether a situation you are experiencing constitutes harassment? Do not hesitate to contact us.
What are the consequences of psychological harassment at work?
Psychological harassment in the workplace can have repercussions at different levels: for the victims, the perpetrators and for the company in which it occurs.
Consequences for the victim
Several studies have highlighted the harmful effects of psychological harassment on the health of people who are victims of it at work. According to these studies, the main disorders affecting victims of workplace harassment are:
- Sleep disorder
- Decreased self-esteem
- Psychological distress
- Suicidal thoughts
These health consequences may persist even after the harassment has stopped.
Consequences for the company
Psychological harassment in the workplace can have many negative consequences for a company, including:
- Loss of productivity and absenteeism: employees who are victims of psychological harassment are often less productive and may have difficulty adjusting to their work, which can lead to a decrease in the company’s profitability.
- Risk of premature departures: employees who are subjected to psychological harassment are often inclined to leave their jobs, which may result in additional recruitment and training costs for the company.
- Bad brand image: Psychological harassment in the workplace can damage the company’s brand image and discourage potential candidates from applying for a job.
- Risk of litigation and legal action: Employees who are victims of psychological harassment may decide to file a lawsuit against the company if it has not put the necessary measures in place to prevent the harassment or to help the victim.
It is therefore important for a company to take steps to prevent psychological harassment in the workplace and to deal promptly with any problems that may arise.
Consequences for the perpetrator
Individuals who engage in psychological harassment in the workplace can face serious consequences, including termination of employment, if a complaint is found to be substantiated.
Under the Employment Standards Act, harassing behaviour is determined by the experience of the person who is subjected to it, not by the intentions of the person who commits it. This means that someone could be accused by their employer of psychologically harassing another person, even if they did not intend to do so.
Get help from a workplace harassment lawyer
A lawyer who specializes in psychological harassment in the workplace assesses the validity of the complaint, conducts an investigation and writes a report recommending actions and measures that will be taken to follow up on their implementation.
Every case, including yours, is unique. If you would like to obtain fair compensation for the harm you have suffered, we recommend that your file be examined by a professional.
Contact Bégin Avocat by phone at (514) 509 – 7852 or by filling out this form. Present us with the details of your situation. We will then decide how to support you and protect your rights as you pursue justice for the harassment from which you have suffered.