Workplace harassment has been a topic that was the subject of discussion in many British Columbia industries in recent months. Under employment law, employees have the right to safe workplace environments, but employers have the right to protection against groundless accusations of harassment. If bullying or harassment is present in the workplace, the employee must report it to the employer who must take the appropriate steps to address the issue. Both employers and employees may benefit from understanding what constitutes harassment.
Harassing behaviour and bullying can include psychological, verbal and physical mistreatment. When an employer, supervisor or another employee acts in ways that he or she should know would cause the victim humiliation or intimidation, it could constitute harassment or bullying. Other actions that may lead to harassment allegations include circulating or displaying printed or digital material or images of an employee, making or sending intimidating emails or phone calls, along with all forms of sexual harassment.
Sometimes, employees confuse reasonable actions that relate to direction and management as harassment or bullying by supervisors or employers. Certain activities where this has been known to occur include the evaluation and assessment of completed jobs, workplace inspections, assigning and scheduling of tasks, and changing of assignments. Taking disciplinary actions when justified is also part of the responsibilities of employers and managers, and this responsibility can sometimes become an area where employers feel as though they are operating appropriately while some employees may feel as if excessive actions are being taken.
Constructive guidance, advice and feedback about an employee’s performance or conduct will likely not be seen as harassment. Nevertheless, both employees who believe they are victims of workplace harassment, and employers who are accused of such behaviour can benefit from consulting with a British Columbia lawyer who is experienced in all aspects of employment law. A lawyer can assess the unique circumstances of each case and suggest the most appropriate course of action for an individual to take.