Workplace Harassment

Jacob’s Question: When I asked my Manager a fairly straightforward question, he answered me in a very condescending tone. He later apologized, and said he was having a bad day. I have never had a problem with my manger, but I found his response to be very demeaning. Is that workplace harassment?

Thank you for your question Jacob. In order to answer your question, it is first important to look at what is and is not workplace harassment.
1. What is Workplace Harassment?
Section 5 of Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act defines workplace harassment as, “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.”
Section 5(1) of the Ontario Human Rights Code states that “every person who is an employee has a right to freedom from harassment in the workplace by the employer or agent of the employer or by another employee because of:
i) Race;
ii) Ancestry;
iii) Place of Origin;
iv) Color;
v) Ethnic Origin;
vi) Citizenship;
vii) Creed;
viii) Sexual orientation;
ix) Gender identity;
x) Gender expression;
xi) Age;
xii) Record of offences;
xiii) Marital status;
xiv) Family status; and/or
xv) Disability.”

2. Examples of Workplace Harassment:
Examples of harassment include:
i) Making rude/degrading comments;
ii) Spreading rumors about an employee’s family status; and/or
iii) Making fun of an employee because of his/her beliefs.

3. What is NOT Workplace Harassment?
Harassment does NOT include:
i) An isolated incident of a minor nature for which a person has promptly apologized;
ii) Strongly expressed opinions that are different from others;
iii) Free and frank discussions about issues or concerns in the workplace without personal insults; and/or
iv) The legitimate and proper exercise of management’s authority.

4. Answer to Jacob’s question:
After having looked at the legal definitions and various examples of workplace harassment, it is our opinion that harassment has NOT been made out in this case.

This incident did not amount to harassment because:
i) Supervisors and Managers are allowed to make mistakes. Poor management skills are not enough to transform a poorly handled situation into harassment; and
ii) This was an isolated incident of a minor nature for which your Manager later apologized.
See Motor Coils Manufacturing Ltd and Unifor, Local 520 (Steacy) Re, 2015 OLAA No.263, for a similar example.

5. Suzanne Desrosiers Professional Corporation:
For assistance in updating your employment policies and procedures, providing training to staff members, and/or obtaining general employment law advice please contact Suzanne Desrosiers today at suzanne@sdlawtimmins.com or (705) 268-6492.

Experience, Integrity, Results.

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