Conflict may arise in any working environment. If this conflict escalates, it may rise to the level of harassment and have a detrimental effect throughout the workforce. Fortunately, pursuant to BC employment laws, both employees and employers have duties to prevent and address allegations of harassment in the workplace.
What is Harassment?
Harassment is any inappropriate conduct or comment towards a person that the harasser knows, or should reasonably know, to be unwelcome. This includes any unwanted physical contact, sexual suggestions, or comments based on racial stereotypes.
However, not all conduct that makes a person uncomfortable may be considered harassment. For example, a supervisor may legally critique their employee’s job performance unless such critiques disproportionately or unfairly target a specific employee or group of employees. Conduct that arises from a relationship of mutual consent may also not amount to harassment unless there is a power imbalance or if the individual should reasonably know that their conduct is unwelcome.
If an employee believes he or she is being harassed, the first step should be to report the behaviour to a supervisor or designated human rights professional. Pursuant to the BC Human Rights Code, employers are prohibited from disciplining their employees for reporting allegations of harassment. The employee may also wish to gather evidence of the conduct such as from text messages, e-mails, or statements from other witnesses to the conduct.
Employers should also be proactive in addressing allegations of harassment. Pursuant to the Workers Compensation Act, employers are obliged to protect the health and safety of their employees. With respect to harassment, this may include providing employees with a clear anti-bullying and harassment policy and conducting a thorough investigation into allegations of harassment.
If you believe that you may be the victim of harassment, or if you have any questions with respect to an employer’s duties to prevent and address allegations of workplace harassment, please contact our firm. We would be pleased to answer any questions that you may have.