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The first steps taken by the Commission des normes du travail regarding psychological harassment

Written by : ADP Canada
A little more than two years ago, the Québec government passed legislation regarding psychological harassment in the workplace. The new law gave the Commission des normes du travail (CNT) the mandate to establish a complaint investigation process and to provide complementary solutions for employees who are the victims of psychological harassment.

Flowchart : Complaint handling process

According to the CNT, one worker out of ten in Québec has been the victim of a serious form of harassment, intimidation or humiliation by his or her boss or a co-worker. Yet only 10% of the complaints filed have gone through all the steps in the process (see flowchart) and have therefore been sent to the Commission des relations de travail. In one of the decisions rendered by the Commission concerning the complaint filed by the Syndicat des employés(ées) manuels de la Ville de Baie-Comeau (section 2915 of the SCFP) versus the Ville de Baie-Comeau, the employer was obliged to reimburse lost salary to a worker who was the victim of psychological harassment at work. In addition to an amount of $4,737 in wages, the employer was obliged to pay $409 to the plaintiff's pension plan. In short, it was obliged to pay a total amount of over $5,000.

It should be noted that in this particular case, the complaint was filed on October 12, 2004 and it took until May 2006 for the decision to be rendered. In other words, from six to twelve months can elapse before the investigation process begins, not counting the other six to eight months before obtaining a hearing, if the complaint is indeed sent to the Commission des relations du travail. These delays result in many direct and indirect costs for the company, in addition to the indemnity:

  1. a drop in productivity (caused by a poor work atmosphere or a shortage of personnel);
  2. the additional hours paid to another person to perform the tasks of the employee who is off work;
  3. the salary of the personnel who participate in the different steps of the complaint handling process.

Psychological Harassment Policy

In a context of globalization, where competition among companies is extremely fierce, it is important for employees to perform at their best. Moreover, the duration and complexity of the complaint handling process are such that the employer must prevent all possible problems by implementing a policy on psychological harassment in the workplace.

As this process poses an important issue that could result in a laborious legal resolution, companies undoubtedly gain by being pro-active and proposing prevention activities on an ongoing basis. However, if, despite all best efforts, a worker is still the victim of psychological harassment, a reporting procedure may be initiated in order to rectify the situation without necessarily having to go before the CNT.

Section 81.18 of the Labour Standards Act defines psychological harassment as follows:

…any vexatious behavior in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures, that affects an employee's dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that results in a harmful work environment for the employee.

A single serious incidence of such behavior that has a lasting harmful effect on an employee may also constitute psychological harassment.

Most of the time, psychological harassment is confused with the exercise of management rights, such as the division of work tasks and implementation of disciplinary measures. However, if the employer exercises these rights in an abusive or discriminatory manner, these actions may be regarded as psychological harassment.

According to the approach adopted by the CNT, the employer must take reasonable actions to try to prevent this type of situation from occurring and to put a stop to such conduct. Companies are thus obliged to establish a workplace atmosphere free from psychological harassment.

The CNT does not consider management practices aimed at promoting a harmonious workplace environment to be sufficient. It is important that preventive measures also be taken. These must include, among other things, an internal procedure that is known to everyone and efficient, and that provides information about all harassment situations. Furthermore, the fact that an employer is unaware of a case of harassment does not release it from its legal responsibilities in this regard.

Commission des normes du travail, schéma : cheminement d'une plainte. Decision rendered by Maitre Bernard Lefebvre, arbitrator, 2006-05-17, arbitration tribunal (A.T.) 2005-4862, references AZ-50378411, D.T.E. 2006T-638.

With more than 50,000 clients across Canada, ADP Canada (ADP) is the country's largest provider of employer-related services. Among ADP Canada's traditional outsourcing products and services and those offered via the internet, the company offers payroll, human resources management, time and labour management, as well as occupational health and safety, and comprehensive outsourcing and consulting services. ADP Canada pays one in five Canadians.
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