• What is harassment?

Generally, harassment is conduct or comment that a reasonable person would consider to be objectionable or unwelcome.  The conduct or comment typically humiliates, intimidates, excludes or isolates individuals and is often accompanied by threats or promises regarding opportunities and conditions. 

Harassment can be a single, serious incident or a series of repeated incidents.  A series of incidents often leads to negative, hostile or poisoned environments that interfere with someone’s ability to do their job or obtain a service.  Unhealthy environments show signs of increased absenteeism and turnover and decreased levels of productivity and motivation.  Harassment can range from written or spoken comments to physical or sexual assault.  Harassment often involves an abuse of power and has detrimental affects for those suffering from it. 

WorkSafe BC may also be able to help you if you are being bullied or harassed at work. Their definition of bullying and harassment;

  • Includes any inappropriate conduct or comment by a person towards a worker that the person knew or ought to have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated, but
  • excludes any reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment.

What type of harassment is covered by human rights legislation?

When the harassment is rooted in, or is in relation to, one or more of the group characteristics protected in human rights legislation, the conduct could constitute a finding of discrimination under human rights legislation.

What group characteristics are protected in the B.C. Human Rights Code?

In B.C. we are protected from discrimination and harassment in employment due to our age (19 and over), ancestry, colour, conviction for a criminal or summary conviction unrelated to the employment, family and marital status, physical or mental disability, place of origin, political belief, race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), and sexual orientation.  

In employment harassment is any unwelcome action by any person, in particular by management or a co-worker, whether verbal or physical, usually on a repeated basis, which humiliates, insults or degrades due to membership in a protected group.  Unwelcome or unwanted in this context means any actions which the harasser knows or reasonably ought to know are not desired by the victim of harassment.

Landlords and service providers are also required to provide a harassment free environment for their tenants and customers. 

What are some examples of discriminatory harassment?

Discriminatory harassment can take many forms.  The following list is not comprehensive and serves as an example only:

  • Material that is displayed publicly or put in someone’s workspace that is racist, sexist, sexually explicit, anti-gay or lesbian, or insulting due to any of the group characteristics previously listed;
  • Verbal abuse or comments that belittle people because of sex, pregnancy, race, sexual orientation, disability, or any other ground previously listed;
  • Unwelcome and hurtful jokes based on gender, race, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, or any other ground previously listed;
  • Sexually or racially offensive gestures;
  • Ignoring, isolating or segregating a person because of sex, race, or any other ground previously listed;
  • Staring or leering in a sexual nature;
  • Physical contact of a sexual nature;
  • Aggressive physical conduct;
  • Repeated behaviour which a person has objected to and, therefore, is known to offend.

What if the conduct or behaviour isn’t rooted in one of these group characteristics?

Harassment can also include non-specific conduct or behaviour such as insults, work sabotage, rumour, crude jokes, or bullying.  When the conduct or behaviour is not rooted in one or more of the group characteristics protected in human rights legislation, victims must seek recourse in another forum.    

What do you mean by seeking recourse in other forums?

In many workplaces employees are protected against personal harassment as well as discriminatory harassment.  Personal harassment shares many of the same characteristics as discriminatory harassment, but it isn’t rooted in a particular group characteristic.  This type of harassment includes adverse differential treatment of an individual for no-work-related purpose, causing interference in the individual’s ability to perform his/her work.  This type of harassment usually arises from the combination of a ‘bully’, or a ‘personality conflict’ and a supervisory inability to bring the behaviour or conflict under control. 

Personal harassment is protected under employment and labour laws and clauses that provide protection and recourse for unionized workers are usually contained in collective agreements.  There is a trend in Canada to extend this type of protection to non-unionized workers through company or institutional policies as well.  You should check with your human resource department or with your union representatives to learn the extent of protection that exists in your particular situation.     

In addition to personal harassment, criminal harassment involves treatment which involves assault, damage to personal or company property, and stalking. 

Again some collective agreements have language and processes to address this behaviour, but generally the criminal justice system is the avenue where recourse is sought. 

What to do if you’re being harassed?

Harassment is a serious concern and should not be ignored.  A few practical solutions you can take include:

  • Speaking out and making it clear that you do not approve of what is happening;
  • Tell your supervisor or someone higher up about your concern and ask them to help;
  • If you’re being harassed while trying to access a service, complain to management and ask what kind of policy exists to address your concern;
  • Prepare and keep a detailed record of the incident(s);
  • Consider filing a human rights complaint.

Also have a look through other suggestions posted here