AQ Speaks HR – Harassment in the Workplace

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Harassment – Ten Easy Steps to Prevention

A recent Free Press article headline came as an unpleasant shock to many readers. The startling headline read, “Hike in sexual harassment cases concerns rights agency”. The news article quoted Yvonne Peters, Human Rights Commission Acting Chairwoman when she stated, “…despite our 25 years or so of raising awareness, harassment continues to be an issue.”

What is harassment? Why is it occurring in workplaces? What steps must employers take to address harassment?

Harassment Defined

The definition includes two main components: The first relates to a course of abusive and unwelcome conduct or comments undertaken or made on the basis of characteristics protected by the Human Rights Code. This includes objectionable and unwelcome sexual solicitation or advances.

The second component includes what is commonly referred to as psychological harassment or bullying. This includes repeated humiliation or intimidation that adversely affects a workers psychological or physical well-being.    While harassment frequently presents as a pattern of repeated behaviours, a single incident of serious misconduct can also meet the definition of harassment.  Harassment can also occur through written, verbal, or physical means including gestures or displays, or as a combination of these.

Why is Harassment Still Occurring at Alarming Rates?

There is no single reason why harassment continues in workplaces today. The following offer some insight:

  1. Many employers have yet to establish and implement the Ten Step approach noted below.
  2. Many in the workplace do not appreciate the serious impact harassment can have on coworkers.
  3. Long established beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that may be inappropriate are hard to break.
  4. Those who experience harassment or who witness harassment may be afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation.

In any event, employers are responsible to ensure that employees are not exposed to harassment in the workplace from management, coworkers or others, including service providers or customers.

Ten Steps to Prevention

  1. Establish a written Respectful Workplace and Harassment Prevention policy.
  2. Consult with employees or the workplace safety and health committee in the preparation of your policy.
  3. Ensure the policy is readily available to all employees and that it is conspicuously posted in all workplaces.
  4. Ensure that all workers, including leadership, comply with the policy.
  5. Advise your major service providers and vendors of your policy and the requirement that they comply with its provisions.
  6. Train all employees so they understand the basic principles and concepts of the policy as well as their responsibilities and rights under the policy.
  7. Establish a comprehensive and ongoing communication strategy for employees, their families, and suppliers and vendors.
  8. Audit and monitor your workplace regularly for compliance with the spirit, intent and provisions of the policy.
  9. Investigate allegations and complaints of harassment in a thorough and timely fashion.
  10. Take appropriate corrective actions when violations of your policy occur.

For a complimentary checklist of the elements that must be included in your organizations harassment prevention policy, please email me at

Mike A. Cuma is Vice President Human Resources and Labour Relations with Pinnacle. These are the views of the author and not necessarily that of AQ Group Solutions.