to address harassment, bullying and discrimination
with Stephen Hammond
Tip #13 — KNOWING MORE ABOUT HARASSMENT ISSUES AND TERMINOLOGY
For example, no one gets "charged" with harassment and workplace harassment rarely goes to court (in most circumstances). I correct people when they talk about "charges" of harassment. Maybe it's splitting hairs, but I think using the word "charges" instead of "complaints" adds fuel to the fire; it implies that harassment is so severe that people can't tackle it on their own before it reaches a public level.
Under human rights legislation in Canada, a person can suffer a harassment complaint, but not a charge. They will not attain a criminal record or go to jail. They will likely be spoken to, will possibly have to pay damages, might be instructed to take a course or promise to cease and desist with the offending behaviour, and in rare cases, they'll lose their job. There are charges of criminal harassment under the Criminal Code, but that entails severe cases and is a very different subject. A harassment complaint, 95% of the time, will not start at the court level. First it goes to a commission or tribunal, which tries to resolve the problem. If that process is adjudicated or exhausted, someone can appeal to the courts - a lengthy and expensive process, but one available to any of the parties involved.
That being said, other regulatory quasi-judicial bodies have to deal with issues of harassment when they come up. For example, if someone says harassment is the reason for leaving a job, and they're making a claim for employment insurance, then the federal Employment Insurance department has to decide if harassment has taken place. If someone is on stress leave due to a harassing work environment, Workers' Compensation will get pulled in. Labour arbitrators often have to decide harassment issues, and the courts deal with wrongful dismissal cases due to harassment all the time.
1) Use appropriate terminology - and others will take your lead. If you use complaint" then hopefully others will use the same. You don't have to correct others if you don't want, but simple discussions can answer outstanding questions.
2) Be prepared for harassment to come after an employee has left- as we know other regulatory bodies must deal with it. If a person yells "harassment" after they have left, it might seem like a weird version of sour grapes. On the other hand, the person might have been able to stomach the harassment as long as it meant they could pay the rent. Once that's gone, they don't want to let it go on, or happen to others. You won't know until you get all the facts.
3) Understand how big this is - since the courts have made it clear. Years ago the Supreme Court of Canada stated directly that any regulatory body and court must deal with harassment if it comes before them - they want a "one stop shopping" for employees or former employees. Our courts keep ramping things up as they see harassment is still in many workplaces.