How to Deal with Harassment in the Workplace
The workplace can be a hard place to navigate, but it can be even more difficult if you’re facing harassment. Avoiding being alone with a harasser or having to laugh through an inappropriate joke can cause extreme stress and even health issues.
The Alberta Government defines harassment as ‘a single or repeated incident of objectionable or unwelcome conduct, comment, bullying or action intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person or group.’
And it’s a serious issue. This year it was officially defined as a workplace hazard in the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, along with workplace violence.
This means that employers must investigate any incident of harassment or violence, take action to address the incident, prevent it from happening again, offer support to the worker affected and prepare an investigation report. An OHS officer may also conduct an investigation.
If you are being harassed, doing something about it can seem impossible and scary. You may be afraid of getting fired or someone not believing you. Here are the steps you should take if you are experiencing any type of harassment at work.
Tell them to Stop
This, of course, is easier said than done, but it’s an important first step. That being said, you should only do this if you feel safe to do so. Tell the harasser why the behaviour is unacceptable and describe how it affects you.
Keep a record of every incident that happens with your harasser in a journal with dates, witnesses and details. If your harasser sends emails, texts or memos keep all of those as evidence of the harassment. It’s also important to keep any positive performance reviews or references to prove you can do your job.
Reach Out to Coworkers
If you have one or more coworkers who you have a trusted relationship with at work, reach out to them about the harassment you’re experiencing. They may know someone else who has experienced it or they may be experiencing it themselves. A supportive coworker can also make a world of difference emotionally if you are experiencing harassment.
If the harassment continues after you have said something to the harasser or you don’t feel comfortable doing so, you need to report it to a supervisor, manager or HR representative. Make sure you have this statement and report in writing so it’s on record. As mentioned before, employers have a legal duty to do something about this. If no one is taking your complaints seriously, or the harasser is a superior, it is time to get outside help.
Contact Occupational Health and Safety
Workplace harassment and violence are legally listed as a workplace hazard in the OHS act, which means it needs to be taken seriously. Call OHS 24 hours a day toll-free at 1- 866-415-8690 (Alberta) or at 780-415-8690 (Edmonton). You can also file a confidential complaint online.
Report it to the Alberta Human Rights Commission
The Alberta Human Rights Commission protects all Albertans from discrimination, and that includes workplace harassment. A complaint can be made by calling their confidential line, but remember you must make it within one year of the incident. Once the commission has received your complaint, it’s assessed to determine if it can be accepted. If it’s not accepted, you will be notified in writing with a reason.
If it’s accepted, the commission sends a copy of the complaint to the person who the complaint has been made against. The commission may try to resolve the issue at this point if not, then an investigation is started and it’s decided if the complaint should proceed forward. If it’s decided that it should proceed, a financial or non-financial remedy can be reached at this point. If this doesn’t happen then it will go to a tribunal. You can find more information on the process here.
What is important to remember is that you do have options and you don’t have to put up with any type of harassment in the workplace. No one should have to fear going into work and harassment should never be tolerated by any employer.
We're here to help
The Distress Line is a great resource to call if you are feeling overwhelmed and need someone to talk to.
You can contact them at 403.266.HELP (4357) in Calgary,
780-482-HELP (4357) in Edmonton and 1-800-232-7288 in rural areas.
Respect At Work