Office harassment are unwelcome verbal or physical behavior. Harassment becomes unlawful when the conduct is severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would consider the office to be a toxic working environment. Harassing conduct may include offensive jokes, name-calling, physical assaults or threats, insults, offensive pictures, etc….

Office Harassment In A Nutshell

Harassment is defined as improper conduct by an individual, that is directed at and offensive to another individual in the workplace, including at any event or any location related to work, and that the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm. It comprises objectionable act(s), comment(s) or display(s) that demean, belittle, or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat.

More specifically, harassment is normally a series of incidents but can be one severe incident which has a lasting impact on the individual.

Essentially, the definition of harassment means that more than one act or event is needed in order to constitute harassment and that taken individually, this act or event need not constitute harassment. It is the repetition that generates the harassment. In other words, harassment consists of repeated and persistent behaviours towards an individual to torment, undermine, frustrate or provoke a reaction from that person. It is a behaviour that with persistence, pressures, frightens, intimidates or incapacitates another person. Each behaviour viewed individually may seem inoffensive; it is the synergy and repetitive characteristic of the behaviours that produce harmful effects.

However, one single incident can constitute harassment when it is demonstrated that it is severe and has a significant and lasting impact on the complainant.

The test for harassment includes both subjective and objective elements:

  • How the conduct would be viewed by a reasonable person, taking into account the perspective of the person being harassed (this is the objective element).

  • The subjective views of the person being harassed, if made known to the harasser.

Please note that harassment doesn’t need to be intentional. It’s immaterial the subjective of the harasser as to whether he or she subjective think that it was a harassment. In some cases, it will be obvious that the conduct or comments are offensive or unwelcome. In other cases, conduct or comment may not on their face be offensive, but the harasser should still reasonably know that they are unwelcome because of how the other person reacts.

Poisoned Working Environment

Insulting or degrading comments or actions in a workplace will usually cause employees to feel that the workplace is hostile or unwelcoming and this is sometimes referred to as a “poisoned working environment.” A poisoned environment cannot, however, be based only on subjective views. There should be objective facts to show that the comments or conduct, viewed in a whole, amounts to harassment.

Management has the responsibility to prevent and address situations that may create a poisoned work environment. A workplace that allows a poisoned environment to develop or continue may be the subject of a human rights claim or a claim of wrongful dismissal after the employee has been terminated.

Click here to learn more about Harassment & Discrimination.

Click here to learn more about Wrongful Dismissal.

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