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Psychological or sexual harassment

You are an employer

Establish a simple and efficient complaint system that is known to all

In accordance with the Act respecting labour standards, you must adopt and make accessible to your employees a policy on prevention of psychological 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:

You must establish a procedure that allows all of your employees to easily inform you as soon as a harassment situation arises. The procedure must allow any person who believes that he is being harassed to submit a complaint to you, whether formally or informally, and guarantee the discretion and confidentiality of your interventions. You must act discreetly to resolve the problem submitted to you. You must also inform all of the persons involved of the confidential nature of the situation.

Communicate effectively

Talk openly about harassment at work. It is important for your personnel to have a good understanding of what this phenomenon entails. You must help staff members to become aware of their individual responsibility for creating and maintaining a work environment that is free from harassment.

Train your managers to intervene early in your workplace, notably with an advisory service. Inform your clientele, your suppliers and your collaborators of the measures you have taken to prevent and to put a stop to psychological or sexual harassment in your enterprise.

Detect the risks and put appropriate measures in place

  1. Make a list of the risk factors with the collaboration of your employees. Each employee will become aware of the behaviours and circumstances that can lead to psychological or sexual harassment. This must be done periodically and when major changes occur in the enterprise, such as a restructuring, a merger, or a technological change. This must also be redone after a harassment situation has been resolved.
  2. Identify the appropriate corrective measures. These measures must be part of a comprehensive approach to managing human resources and the organization of work. Draw inspiration from the experience of other enterprises. Obtain advice from resources that specialize in the management of human resources or psychology. Call on business associations, groups or networks that offer this type of service.
  3. Evaluate the risk level to determine a timetable for implementing the measures. The greater the risk, the greater the need to implement these measures quickly.
  4. Set a timetable and designate a person responsible for each measure. You can do a follow-up and evaluate the effectiveness. Following this analysis, do a comprehensive review of the management of your enterprise. Give thought to its values, the management style practised in your enterprise, and the way in which work is organized.

Interpretation

A few examples of risk factors

  • Lack of respect between individuals
  • Conflicts that are poorly managed or not managed
  • Envy, jealously, rivalry
  • Absence of communication between the employer and employees, and among employees
  • Excessive competition
  • Ambiguity or lack of precision concerning the tasks to be performed
  • Unfairness in the distribution of the workload
  • Lack of training or coaching when a technological change occurs
  • Inadequate work tools
  • Denial of the possible existence of psychological or sexual harassment in the enterprise

A few means of detecting risk factors

  • Pay attention to your workplace, in particular to changes in the behaviour of individuals or the forming of clans
  • Be attentive to tensions between individuals
  • Hold one-on-one meetings
  • Consult personnel
  • Take stock of the events that have occurred in the enterprise over the last year. Analyze the absenteeism rate, the turnover rate, the nature of grievances, the type of actions that were the subject of administrative or disciplinary measures, the reasons for consulting the employee assistance program

Measures to prevent risk situations from leading to psychological or sexual harassment

  • Promoting respect between people at work
  • Open communication between the employer and employees, and among employees
  • Fair distribution of work
  • Promoting collaboration
  • Clarification of expectations and misunderstandings
  • Ensuring the adequacy of the employee’s skills and abilities in relation to the requirements of the position
  • Clear definition of roles and duties
  • Leadership in the early and appropriate management of conflicts
  • Consultation of personnel, notably about work methods
  • Training to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to do the job

Intervene promptly and resolve conflicts

Intervene as soon as a potential case of psychological or sexual harassment is brought to your attention. Determine how you should intervene according to the nature of the conflict and its evolution. Decide if it is necessary to impose temporary penalties or offer temporary support. If it is a conflict that does not involve harassment, good management will suffice to resolve the problem.

Informal interventions

Harassment situations are occasionally resolved directly by the persons concerned. Their common interests help bring them together and they do not require the assistance of an intermediary. If this occurs, you will undoubtedly be informed other than by way of the procedure in effect in your enterprise. If the conflict does not involve a harassment problem, you can resolve it by adapting your management practices.

Formal interventions

When a situation resembles psychological or sexual harassment, the two most frequent types of formal interventions are mediation and investigations. One or more neutral persons who are skilled in mediation and conducting investigations and who are well versed in the dynamics of harassment must take charge of these interventions. The mediator and the investigator may be members of the enterprise’s staff or come from outside the enterprise. You must be extremely vigilant when it comes to their impartiality, especially if they are in-house resources.

Interpretation

Mediation inside the enterprise

Mediation is free and voluntary. The persons concerned participate in good faith. The mediator makes sure that there is a balance between the forces in play and re-establishes this balance if necessary. He does not impose his point of view or that of any person on another person. He makes sure that the consent of both parties is free and enlightened.

Characteristics of mediation

  • Mediation is a conflict resolution method that is simple, flexible and quick
  • It aims to put a stop to the harassment by helping the parties find solutions that are acceptable to everyone, with the help of an impartial person
  • It is confidential
  • It is neither an investigation nor a form of trial

Characteristics of a good mediator

  • A good mediator is well versed in the dynamics of psychological harassment and possesses excellent mediation skills
  • He is impartial and honest
  • He respects a code of ethics

In-house investigation

If the circumstances rule out mediation or if mediation fails, you can conduct an in-house investigation. This intervention often helps take stock of the situation, notably when the versions of the individuals involved are contradictory. It is to your advantage to act promptly in order to situate the problem correctly.
This type of intervention requires more time than does mediation, whether for the person who was harassed, the harasser or the witnesses. The presumed harasser has the right to know what he is being blamed for and to give his version of the facts.
The investigation may be carried out by one person or by a committee. The individual(s) in question may be part of the enterprise or come from outside the enterprise. It is up to you to determine the mandate entrusted to them. The investigators must obtain each of the testimonies according to the order and the place they consider appropriate. They will analyze the facts and their impacts on individuals. This may be done according to the reasonable person criterion.

The investigators conclude their analysis of the situation by determining whether or not the case involves a psychological or sexual harassment situation. They will submit a report to you and based on this report you will have to apply certain measures.

Support or penalize the persons concerned

Support

Depending on the circumstances, you can offer support measures to the persons concerned during and after the intervention or interventions, by resorting to your enterprise's employee assistance program. During an intervention, these measures prevent the condition of your employees from deteriorating. Afterwards, they will help them reintegrate into the workplace.

A few examples of measures

  • Leave for a specified period, with or without pay
  • Training or professional assistance
  • Progressive return to work after a sick leave
  • Financial compensation for medical treatments or medications not covered by the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec

Coaching measures may also be required when the person who was harassed or the harasser returns to work, to facilitate the person’s reintegration. Following an investigation, you may have to intervene to re-establish good relations in a work unit. This action may even be more important if the harassment was committed by a group.

Penalties

However, if you must impose penalties, act according to the known rules in the matter. Ensure, in particular, that the importance of the disciplinary measures is proportional to the seriousness of the fault. Also account for the graduation of penalties, and any aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

If a harasser is outside your enterprise

If the harasser is outside your enterprise, you can take certain measures nonetheless depending on the seriousness of what happened. For example, you could request a change of interlocutor or an amendment to a service contract.

Remember

  • You are obliged to provide a work environment free from psychological or sexual harassment.
  • For this purpose, you must prevent and put a stop to all harassment by reasonable means and appropriate measures, including the mandatory deployment of a policy on prevention of psychological harassment and handling of complaints that includes a component concerning behaviour in the form of verbal comments, actions or gestures of a sexual nature.
  • You must put in place in your enterprise an effective mechanism that is known to all and that will allow you to be informed of any psychological or sexual harassment situation.
  • If you fail to fulfill your obligations, you will be held responsible for any psychological or sexual harassment behaviour occurring in your enterprise.

In case of disagreement

Discuss with your employees

Clarify the situation and, wherever possible, resolve the problem.

If the initiative comes from one of your employees, keep in mind that the Act prohibits you from exercising any form of reprisals against him.

 

Get informed

Get in touch with the Service des renseignements by telephone or e-mail, if necessary.

By acting promptly, you will limit the risks of having a complaint filed against you with the CNESST. It is in your interest and that of your employees.

If the problem is not resolved, a complaint may be filed against you. In this case, be prepared to:

  • give your version of the facts
  • submit every document required by the investigator.

If you refuse to cooperate, you may be subject to penal proceedings.
To learn more, consult the complaint module.

 

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