The Act says

The Act respecting labour standards contains provisions on psychological or sexual harassment at work that protect the majority of Québec workers.

Although the Act does not apply to certain employees such as senior managerial personnel, a person who cares for others, an employee subject to the construction decree, a worker who is party to a contract (in certain situations) or a student trainee, the provisions concerning psychological or sexual harassment apply to them all the same.

What constitutes psychological or sexual harassment

Psychological or sexual harassment at work is vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures:

  • that are hostile or unwanted
  • that affect the employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity
  • that make the work environment harmful.

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A single serious incidence of such behaviour may constitute harassment if it has the same consequences and if it produces a lasting harmful effect on the employee.

The definition of psychological harassment found in the Act respecting labour standards includes sexual harassment at work and discriminatory harassment based on any one of the grounds listed in section 10 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms:  race, colour, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, handicap or the use of a means to palliate this handicap.

Criteria

To establish that the case actually involves psychological or sexual harassment, it is necessary to prove the presence of all of the elements of the definition:

Vexatious behaviour

This behaviour is humiliating, offensive or abusive for the person on the receiving end. It injures the person’s self-esteem and causes him anguish. It exceeds what a reasonable person considers appropriate within the context of his work.

Repetitive in nature

Considered on its own, a verbal comment, a gesture or a behaviour may seem innocent. It is the accumulation or all of these behaviours which may become harassment. However a serious isolated act could be considered harassment.

Verbal comments, gestures or behaviours that are hostile or unwanted

The comments, gestures or behaviours in question must be considered hostile or unwanted. If they are sexual in nature, they could be considered harassment even if the victim did not clearly express his or her refusal.

Affect the person's dignity or integrity

Psychological or sexual harassment has a negative effect on the person. The victim may feel put down, belittled, denigrated both at the personal and professional levels. The physical health of the harassed person may also suffer.

Harmful work environment

Psychological or sexual harassment makes the work environment harmful for the victim. The harassed person may, for example, be isolated from his colleagues due to the hostile verbal comments, gestures or behaviours towards him or concerning him.

Employer's obligations

Provide a workplace free from psychological harassment

The employer is required to provide his employees with an environment that is free from psychological or sexual harassment. However, this is an obligation of means and not of results. In other words, the employer cannot guarantee that there will never be any psychological or sexual harassment in his enterprise, but he  must:

  • prevent any harassment situation through reasonable measures
  • put a stop to harassment when the situation is brought to his attention

Deploy a policy on prevention of psychological or sexual harassment and handling of complaints

The employer must adopt and make accessible to his employees a policy on prevention of psychological and sexual harassment and handling of complaints, which includes a component concerning behaviours in the form of verbal comments, actions or gestures of a sexual nature.

To learn more about what this policy should contain, tools are available to you :

Whom should you contact?

When a psychological harassment situation arises in a workplace, the CNESST invites the employee to resort, wherever possible, to the resource persons designated by his employer and to the mechanisms put in place in his organization.

The person at any time may exercise the recourse provided under the Act respecting labour standards. The designated location for filing a psychological or sexual harassment complaint varies depending on whether the employee comes from the public or private sector, whether the employee is unionized or not unionized.

 

Employee StatusWhere to File the Complaint
Non-unionized employee who is subject to the Act respecting labour standards, including senior managers


CNESST


Unionized employee


The employee’s union


Non-unionized employee of the public service, which includes members and officers of bodiesCommission de la fonction publiqueCe lien ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre


If the employee files a complaint with the CNESST, it may, with the employee’s consent, send the complaint to the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse.

Time period

Since June 12, 2018, the recourse in the case of psychological or sexual harassment at work must be exercised within a period of 2 years after the last incidence of psychological or sexual harassment.

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