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Psychological harassment at work

harcelement psychologique travail

Psychological harassment is a form of harmful behavior that consists of repeated, hostile and unwanted words, behaviors or actions that are painful, hurtful, upsetting, humiliating or insulting.

In these situations, the victim’s dignity and psychological or physical health are threatened and the work or learning environment becomes toxic.

Work accident lawyer Me Bégin explains what you can do if you think you are a victim of psychological harassment at work.


How do you know if you are a victim of psychological harassment at work?

If you are not sure whether you are a victim of psychological harassment at work, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are the behaviors abusive, humiliating or offensive?
  • Are they repeated or is it a single serious event?
  • Are they hostile and vexatious?
  • Do they make your work environment toxic?

Did you answer “yes” to any of these questions? There is a good chance that you are a victim of harassment at work. Let’s look at each of these points in more detail.


1. Violation of dignity and well-being

Vexatious behaviour is often directed at the victim’s dignity or psychological or physical well-being. This often leads to lowered self-esteem, psychological or emotional imbalance or health problems for victims of psychological harassment.

The victim may also experience various disorders such as depression, memory problems, discouragement, irritability, isolation, lack of self-confidence and self-esteem, fatigue and sleep disorders.


2. Repetition and severity of harassment

The behavior must be repeated. The number of repeated occurrences necessary to constitute harassment varies depending on the severity of the behavior, words or actions, and their effect on the victim.

However, a single serious incident may constitute harassment if it has similar consequences and a lasting negative effect on the victim. Prompt action is recommended to prevent the situation from deteriorating. If no effort is made to stop it, the harassment may continue and escalate.


3. Hostile behavior

Hostile behavior is intended to inflict harm. The victim does not have to have clearly expressed disagreement with each behavior, comment, or action for it to be considered unwelcome.

Malicious intent is not necessary for an act to be considered unwanted. Victims of such behavior have a responsibility to voice their disagreement and ask the perpetrator to stop.


4. Toxic work environment

Vexatious behaviour makes the work environment toxic. The victim no longer wants to be in the workplace and becomes very uncomfortable. 

This video from the CNESST (in French only) illustrates a case of psychological harassment at work involving two colleagues.


Are you having difficulty determining whether a situation you are experiencing constitutes harassment? Please do not hesitate to contact us.

What does the law state about psychological harassment in the workplace?

The Act respecting labour standards in Quebec or the Canada Labour Code governs the protection of employees against harassment in the workplace. The law protects employees even when the psychological harassment takes place at work.

However, the law does not protect self-employed workers.

What duties does an employer have to protect its employees from psychological harassment?

In Quebec, employers are required by law to have a policy on the prevention of harassment and the handling of complaints. This policy must clearly indicate who should be contacted by victims of psychological harassment and how to make a complaint.

The law also requires employers to prevent psychological harassment in the workplace. It does not 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 the harassment.

What can you do if you experience harassment?

Here are the different options if you think you are a victim of psychological harassment at work.

Inform your employer or union

The first thing to do is to inform your employer of the situation. Your employer has an obligation to act if they are aware of harassment.

If you are unsure where to turn, check your workplace’s anti-harassment policy. It should explain who is responsible for handling harassment complaints.

Contact a lawyer

A workplace victim compensation law firm can help you understand your rights or assist you if you wish to file a complaint.

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 Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité au travail (CNESST). The organization will first review the complaint and then may request an investigation if necessary.

  • You have 2 years from the last incident of psychological harassment to file a complaint.
  • If you are absent from work because of the harassment, you may be able to file a work accident claim with the CNESST.

You can also file a complaint with the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (CDPDJ).

Sue 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 a crime has been committed.

Even if you can defend yourself without a legal professional, you should not hesitate to consult an employment lawyer or an organization that specializes in employment law.

Get help from an expert lawyer

We have sought to provide answers to frequently asked questions and to examine how Quebec law deals with the issue of psychological harassment in the workplace.

However, each situation is different and yours should be considered accordingly. To ensure that you receive fair compensation for the damages you have suffered, it is best to have your case reviewed by an expert lawyer.

You can contact Bégin Avocat by phone at (514) 509 – 7852 or by filling out the form below to describe your situation. We will then review your case to determine how we can offer support and protection to obtain justice in the face of the harassment you are experiencing.

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