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Harassment and Bullying - What is covered

Harassment can range from unwelcome comments and offensive jokes or pictures, to unwelcome physical contact. Most human rights laws, including the PEI Human Rights Act, only cover harassment if the unwelcome behaviour can be linked to a prohibited ground of discrimination. The most common form of harassment that is covered under human rights law is sexual harassment. Under human rights law, sexual harassment is considered discrimination based on sex or gender. Harassment can also be based on the other grounds of discrimination, such as sexual orientation, race, age, and disability.

Harassment may involve threats of adverse consequences, such as job loss, if the victim attempts to end the harassment. The more common type of harassment involves jokes or attitudes that are sexist, racist, homophobic or derogatory towards other groups. This type of harassment can cause a “poisoned work environment” that discriminates against certain groups, even if they are not included in the jokes or conversations.

Consider these scenarios on Sexual Harassment:

Scenario 1: Marie and Sally work in an office setting. They are the administrative staff for six males. Over the years, Marie has exchanged crude jokes and viewed pornographic materials with the men in the office. Marie enjoys viewing the photos and listening to the jokes. She mentions to Sally that the office would be a boring place if it were not for the men. Sally does not enjoy this type of entertainment. She does not know what to do as her boss is one of the men involved. She is not included in the jesting but is forced to listen because of the positioning of her desk.

Scenario 2: Rob works at a call centre as a customer service representative. The majority of his shifts are spent with the same group of six co-workers of which he is the only man. When calls are slow, the conversation has often turned to the women’s personal lives and their relationships. At first, Rob just ignored the conversations. Lately though, a couple of the women have been making comments such as “all men are pigs,” “men just don’t have a sweet clue,” and “men are really only good for one thing.”

Sally and Rob could be experiencing sexual harassment, or discrimination on the basis of sex or gender in the area of employment. Although they are not participating in the sexual talk, they are uncomfortable because the jesting is going on around them and creating a poisoned work environment. According to the law, Sally and Rob do not have to endure this type of behaviour. Marie, on the other hand, is not experiencing sexual harassment if she is enjoying the jesting.

As in the scenarios above, both women and men can be victims as well as perpetrators of sexual harassment. Women and men can also be sexually harassed by individuals of the same sex. Sexual harassment can occur in all types of workplaces, and at all levels of any company, institution or organization.

Bullying or Personal Harassment

Bullying, sometimes called psychological or personal harassment, is harassment that cannot be tied to a prohibited ground of discrimination. Since there is no prohibited ground of discrimination, bullying is not covered under the PEI Human Rights Act.

Consider this scenario on Bullying:

Jill and Mike work as servers in a busy bar and restaurant that employs a total of fifteen servers, six men and nine women. Jill and Mike feel that the new manager has been treating them differently from the rest of the staff. Even though they seem to make the same number of mistakes as the other staff, she is constantly pointing out their mistakes or criticizing them while mostly leaving the other servers alone. On more than one occasion, the manager has yelled profanities at Mike and Jill in front of customers and other staff. The other servers have even noticed that they have been treated differently. Mike and Jill are not sure what the manager’s problem is with them.

Mike and Jill could be experiencing workplace bullying. Everyone notices that Mike and Jill are being treated differently, but there is no related ground of discrimination. Although the PEI Human Rights Act does not deal with workplace bullying, this type of behaviour has the same devastating effects as harassment based on a ground of discrimination. Some of the effects of harassment and bullying include:

  • low employee morale
  • high turnover and training costs
  • low productivity
  • increase in absenteeism
  • damage to public image
  • violence

On PEI, the Employment Standards Act requires every employer to have and post a sexual harassment policy. The policy should include procedures for reporting sexual harassment. Many employers are now including bullying or personal harassment in their workplace harassment policies. Employees should check with their employer on what their workplace harassment policy includes.

If you experience harassment, it is important to inform the harasser that his or her behaviour is unwelcome. If the harassment occurs at work, report the harassment to a superior. If the harassment occurs where you rent accommodations or receive services, report the harassment to the property or business owner. Also, keep notes of every act of harassment with times, dates, descriptions, witnesses and feelings. Written notes will help you to remember details if you decide to file a complaint with your employer or service provider. In any case of harassment that is related to a ground of discrimination, you can also file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

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