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Examples

What constitutes psychological harassment at work

  • Video segment illustrating what constitutes psychological harassment (French version only)

Psychological harassment of a racial nature

Jean-Marie, who was born in Haiti, is employed as a packer at a food distribution warehouse. He works with 12 colleagues and most of them have the same experience as he does.  For some time now, one of his colleagues, Marcel, has been constantly saying things that may be considered vexatious or hostile concerning Jean-Marie. He almost always does so in the presence of their superiors.

Pointing at Jean-Marie and moving towards him, Marcel said in a loud voice that  there are "too many immigrants" here. On several occasions, while making sure that the other people around could hear, he also repeated that Jean-Marie "didn’t even know how to write". He even told Jean-Marie that "one day he was going to beat up a black person" and "that Jean-Marie should address him as if he were his superior, even though this is not written down anywhere". Marcel’s comments caused several of the other employees at the warehouse to laugh and to make comments, which was very humiliating for Jean-Marie and undermined his self-esteem. He felt completely helpless and lost in the face of what was happening to him, and none of his superiors intervened to stop Marcel.

Psychological harassment between 2 managers

Jean-Marie, who was born in Haiti, is employed as a packer at a food distribution warehouse. He works with 12 colleagues and most of them have the same experience as he does.  For some time now, one of his colleagues, Marcel, has been constantly saying things that may be considered vexatious or hostile concerning Jean-Marie. He almost always does so in the presence of their superiors.

Pointing at Jean-Marie and moving towards him, Marcel said in a loud voice that  there are "too many immigrants" here. On several occasions, while making sure that the other people around could hear, he also repeated that Jean-Marie "didn’t even know how to write". He even told Jean-Marie that "one day he was going to beat up a black person" and "that Jean-Marie should address him as if he were his superior, even though this is not written down anywhere". Marcel’s comments caused several of the other employees at the warehouse to laugh and to make comments, which was very humiliating for Jean-Marie and undermined his self-esteem. He felt completely helpless and lost in the face of what was happening to him, and none of his superiors intervened to stop Marcel.

Psychological harassment between 2 colleagues

Simon is an accountant who wants to be above reproach in everything that he does at work, a trait which does not sit well with some employees. Upon assuming his new position, he discovers that a colleague committed several financial irregularities involving large sums of money. This colleague, fearing that his misdeeds will be exposed, begins to threaten Simon, to falsify his work in an attempt to make others believe that Simon engages in similar practices. This same colleague destroys handwritten and electronic evidence that would have allowed Simon to defend himself and spreads a rumor that Simon suffers from various psychological problems making him unpredictable. When Simon learns of this rumor, he calls on the colleague to take back what he had said. The colleague turns everything into a joke. Simon is destabilized. He turns to his colleagues, but no one wants to help him. He is isolated and feels totally powerless. After several weeks of absence and unable to return to work in this environment, he applies for a transfer to another establishment.

Psychological harassment between a group and a person

Normand is an industrial mechanic. A few of his colleagues find him to be too much of a conformist and have fun misleading him about where he is supposed to work. Taking advantage of the complicity of the employees of the other workshops, his colleagues often make sure that Normand does not report to the right place at the right time.

Shy by nature, Normand does not know how to react or whom to trust at the plant. His unjustified presences in departments to which he was never asked to report or at meetings to which he was never invited and those at which he arrives late gradually begin to get the better of him. He is the subject of constant sarcasm. His reputation for being on time and for being vigilant at work and his credibility are seriously undermined.

Normand decides to relate the facts to a person that he trusts. Following this person’s suggestion, Normand meets with his employer. He informs his employer of all these little facts which, taken together, explain a lot. The employer takes the situation very seriously. He intervenes quickly to put a stop to the harassment.

Sexual harassment at a Christmas party

Chantal has been working as a waitress in a Montréal restaurant-pub for close to 2 years. At Christmas, the owners organized a party during which activities were planned, including the exchange of gifts having an erotic connotation. While in disagreement with the idea, Chantal participated in the exchange of gifts and brought along a fondue set. Various gifts were unwrapped, including a pair of handcuffs which some of the participants wanted to play with.  Steve, one of the bosses sitting at the same table as Chantal, decided as part of the fun to put the handcuffs on Chantal. She found herself with her hands handcuffed behind the back of her chair. Steve began to open the zipper of her sweater. She immediately and firmly told him: "Stop it Steve!". She tried to break free, but Steve held her with one hand and began putting ice-cubes in her bra while fondling her breasts. A female colleague intervened and told Steve to stop and to let Chantal go. Steve detached Chantal and stopped what he was doing. In a state of shock, Chantal left the party abruptly.

The following week at work, Steve tried to explain, saying that he had had too much to drink and asked Chantal not to tell her spouse what had happened. Chantal continued to feel disgusted by the conduct of her boss and wondered if remaining at work would trivialize his actions. She could not stand the idea of being supervised by a person who had  assaulted her. She quit and filed a complaint for psychological harassment with the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail.

This employer’s behaviour was punished even though the incident took place outside working hours. Indeed, the employer is required to take reasonable measures to make sure that there is no harassment in his enterprise. This also applies to social activities related to work, such as a Christmas party.

A single serious incidence

Manon has been working as a sales representative in a jewelry store for just over a year. She works with 4 other employees and their boss, Simone, who is the store owner. Manon had always enjoyed good relations with her fellow workers until a few skirmishes occurred with her colleague Lucie.

The situation deteriorated when Manon learned that Lucie often spoke behind Manon’s back. Simone tried to reduce the tensions between the two employees  by summoning both of them to a meeting the following morning. At the meeting, each employee was asked to express her point of view. When it was Lucie’s turn, she made very rude comments to Manon and adopted a very aggressive and provocative attitude. She accused Manon of having ruined her weekend and yelled at her telling her she should resign for the good of everyone and of the store. Simone did not react at all, letting Lucie say what she wanted to, in a tone and a manner that were completely inappropriate.

During this meeting, Manon was clearly the victim of verbal abuse of absolutely intolerable violence in a workplace. Simone had the obligation to intervene proactively to protect the integrity and dignity of Manon, but she failed to do so. Manon had to take a few days off because she feared returning to work and having to deal with Lucie, without the support of her superior or an outside professional.

What does not constitute harassment at work

  • Video segment illustrating what does not constitute psychological harassment (French version only)

Management right

Mathilde and Xavier are receptionists in a veterinary clinic. Xavier has a few more months of seniority than Mathilde. But 2 months ago, Mathilde was promoted to the position of head receptionist. She is now responsible for hiring, evaluating and disciplining these employees, including Xavier.

He files a complaint with the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail, claiming that Mathilde has been harassing him for a month. Finding it hard to accept that she was promoted and no longer showing  much interest in his work, he was negligent in the performance of his duties and often arrived late. Mathilde had to reprimand him several times, but in vain. After having asked him on a number of occasions to change his behaviour, she even had to punish him by suspending him without wages for one day.

The assignment of tasks, their evaluation and the decision to impose a sanction on an employee do not constitute psychological harassment. The management of discipline, performance or absenteeism, the application of sanctions and even the hypothetical dismissal of Xavier constitute the legitimate exercise of the management right in this case.

Work conflicts

Claire and Louise have been working on the same team for several months. Recently, Claire was appointed person in charge of a project to construct a new building, but Louise has refused to accept this appointment. Her behaviour towards Claire changed and she let Claire know that she feels that she should have been the one entrusted with this responsibility.  Since that time, Louise has limited her collaboration in the project and no longer speaks to Claire. The relations between the two are strained and there are serious communication problems.  This situation could degenerate into harassment if no intervention is made to resolve this conflict.

Work-related stress

Mathieu has worked for five years as a computer analyst in the company. His director offers to promote him to department head. Mathieu will have to manage a team, but he has no management experience. Despite this fact, he accepts the promotion. At first, everything seems to be going smoothly, but Mathieu eventually starts to have doubts about his skills and about his ability to motivate his personnel. Mathieu has a great deal of difficulty managing the stress inherent to his new responsibilities. A number of symptoms begin to appear: headaches, insomnia and anxiety. His director meets with him on a regular basis to take stock of the situation and to offer his help, if necessary. There is nothing threatening or humiliating in these frequent interventions, which are solely intended to help Mathieu with his new responsibilities. But Mathieu doesn’t appreciate these interventions. This situation must not be confused with a case of psychological harassment.

Difficult conditions of employment and constraints

Jean-Guy is over 50 and works in a printing shop. Over the last few months, his employer has begun to introduce computers to do work more efficiently and to increase productivity. As a result, the tasks have been revised. Having demonstrated a great resistance to change, Jean-Guy was one of the last employees to take the training. Now, he no longer has a choice. He must perform his new duties with a computer. This situation demands a great deal of effort and concentration on his part, but does not constitute harassment.