How are employers required to treat their employees?
A fundamental implied term of any employment relationship is that the employer will treat the employee with civility, decency, respect, and dignity. Employers have a duty to provide a work atmosphere that is conducive to the wellbeing of its employees.
Employers are allowed to be critical of their employee’s work, and to take disciplinary action when necessary. Not every arrogant or rude manager, or all workplace arguments will be found to rise to the level of harassment.
What is harassment in the workplace?
The Alberta Human Rights Commission defines harassment as:
“…when someone is subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct.”
It further provides examples of harassment, which include:
Verbal or physical abuse, threats, derogatory remarks, jokes, innuendo, or taunts about appearance or beliefs
Displaying pornographic, racist, or offensive images
Unwelcome invitations or requests, either indirect or direct
Intimidation, leering, or other objectionable gestures
Unwanted physical contact
In the workplace, harassment could include:
Causing or allowing abuse
Allowing a toxic work environment
Assigning inappropriate tasks
Undermining the employee’s standing in the workplace
In general, these behaviours must be seen by an objective, reasonable bystander as serious, deliberate attempts to make working conditions intolerable and cause the employee to resign.
This is not limited to abusive behaviour by the employer. Failure by an employer to prevent the harassment of an employee by co-workers may amount to harassment. Even if an employer doesn’t have actual knowledge of the harassment perpetrated by an employee, they may still be vicariously liable.
What is the consequence of harassment, abuse, or bullying in the employment context?
Harassment, bullying, abuse, or a toxic work environment can lead to a claim for constructive dismissal or a human rights complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
Remedies available through the Alberta Human Rights Commission can include:
Requiring employers to attempt to prevent future harassment through training programs for staff
Ordering the dismissed employee to be reinstated to their original position
Awarding compensation for psychological harm resulting from the harassment
If you believe you are experiencing harassment, Cashion Legal specializes in workplace discrimination law and can review your case to ensure you are being treated fairly and guide you through the next steps.
Frequently asked questions about workplace harassment
An employee who is being harassed in the workplace has many options, ranging from internal complaints to lawsuits. The right option depends on your circumstances and should be decided in consultation with an employment lawyer.
Workplace harassment can sometimes amount to constructive dismissal, and depends primarily on whether the employer has taken steps to prevent and/or address the harassment. An employment lawyer can review your situation and determine whether you’ve been constructively dismissed.