Harassment generally refers to a wide spectrum of offensive behaviour. However, because the term harassment is used in common English, there are plenty of times people use for behaviours that are more about “bugging” someone that truly “harassment”. Where the term harassment is defined by law, the law varies by jurisdiction, but in Canada, when referring to the definition of harassment based on human rights, our courts have been quite clear.
If we look at one of the most common forms of harassment (even today), it would be sexual harassment. In 1989 the Supreme Court of Canada put a definition to sexual harassment that still applies today. Their definition of sexual harassment is “...Unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that detrimentally affects the work environment or leads to adverse job-related consequences for the victims of harassment.” You can put in any other forms of human rights harassment, such as race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, and disability, and you end up with a similar result. Basically you need some form of inappropriate behaviour based on sex (or age, or colour, etc.) and then there has to be some consequences to the person feeling harassed.
If you don’t define the definition of harassment narrowly, that is, just by human rights characteristics, then the definition will include all kinds of behaviours. In these cases, harassment can be defined as any improper conduct by an individual, or towards an individual, which is unwelcome, offensive, demeaning, derogatory, is otherwise inappropriate or fails to respect the dignity of an individual. Harassment comprises any objectionable act, comment or display that demeans, belittles, or causes personal humiliation or embarrassment. Harassment is also defined as any act of intimidation or threat.
Criminal harassment gets into a whole other area defined in the Criminal Code.
Stephen Hammond’s book Managing human rights at work: 101 practical tips to prevent human rights disasters has one chapter dedicated to Harassment Headaches. For example, Tip #26 Sexual harassment isn’t just about sex, Tip #28 Harassment can take place without a complaint, Tip #30 No loopholes for third party harassment, Tip# 34 Harassment prevention is cheaper, Tip #41 Unaddressed harassment costs money and Tip #45 Harassment-free is not fun-free. Over 10,000 copies of this book have been purchased by managers and supervisors.
Stephen Hammond has developed web-based learning around the topic of harassment as part of his continuing education packages. These e-learning modules are in a PowerPoint, audio enabled format. While he has more than 20 modules available, the ones he has developed specifically on harassment include:
1. What is harassment?
2. What an employee can do to deal with harassment
3. No Harassment No Fun.
4. Is Gossip Harassment?
5. Canadian Case - Sexual Harassment in an Industrial Environment
6. Canadian Case - Harassment & Customers
7. Canadian Case - Sexual Harassment
Stephen Hammond gives examples of harassment (such as inappropriate jokes and bad behaviour) in Managing Human Rights Tip #28 - Some Pain, Lots of Gain where he says that speaking up at work will make a difference towards changing people’s behaviours around harassment.