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Guide Interpretation

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Part I - Act respecting labour standards

CHAPTER IV - Labour standards

Psychological harassment

Sections
81.18
81.19
81.20

Section 81.19

Right of the employee

Every employee has a right to a work environment free from psychological harassment.

Duty of employers

Employers must take reasonable action to prevent psychological harassment and, whenever they become aware of such behaviour, to put a stop to it. They must, in particular, adopt and make available to their employees a psychological harassment prevention and complaint processing policy that includes a section on behaviour involving verbal comments, actions or gestures of a sexual nature.

2002, c. 80, a. 47; 2018, c. 21, a. 34.

 

Interpretation

The work environment refers not only to the physical location where the employee performs his duties, but also any place where he may be called upon to work according to the needs of his job.

The reality of this work environment cannot disregard the persons with whom the employee comes into contact in the performance of his tasks. Consequently, the legislator is referring not only to the employer, his representatives and colleagues, but also to the clientele or third parties.

The Act respecting labour standards imposes an obligation of means on the employer. Under this obligation, the person is required to act carefully, diligently and by taking all reasonable steps in the search for the expected result, without providing the certainty of achieving this result. The example most often cited is that of a physician who, while taking all the means at his disposal to cure his patient, cannot guarantee that he will be successful.

For example, an employer who has an obligation of means could see his responsibility engaged, among other things, when: misdeeds were committed by the employer or one of his officers in the exercise of their duties; the employer failed in his obligation to ensure a suitable climate and suitable conditions of employment in the undertaking.

Conversely, the obligation of result, as its name indicates, requires that the person under this obligation provide a precise and well-defined result. An example of this obligation is that of a vendor who has undertaken to deliver the agreed upon goods at a specific date.

This responsibility falls on the employer and not on the person presumed responsible for the psychological harassment. It is the employer who has the responsibility of providing his employees with fair and reasonable conditions of employment and of respecting their health, safety, dignity and psychological and physical integrity.

Consequently, as soon as a harassment situation is brought to his knowledge, the employer is under the obligation to take the appropriate steps and impose the necessary sanctions to put a stop to such behaviour. This implies the existence and implementation of a procedure that is known, effective and adapted to the reality of each undertaking to permit the disclosure of cases of harassment and a rapid and objective response.

The employer’s obligation also involves adopting and making available a psychological harassment prevention and complaint processing policy that includes a section on sexual harassment.

In his capacity as the person having the prime responsibility for the organization of work, only the employer can exercise the necessary authority to ensure a work environment that is healthy and free from harassment.

The fact that the employer is unaware of a harassment situation cannot relieve him of his responsibility. On the contrary, the employer’s negligence or decision to turn a blind eye to a harassment situation engages his responsibility.

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