Psychological harassment at work: Are you up to date?

March 6, 2012

On October 14th 2011, in the case of Rejeanne Rioux c. La Commission touristique du Port-Joli inc., Mr. Provencher, the new head chef, grabbed his colleague, Mrs. Rioux, by the hips. The complainant notified her discontent to Mr. Provencher by stepping back and by glancing unequivocally at him. Mr. Provencher repeated the gesture during the day and also during the following days. Moreover, he sometimes stroked her back or held her by the neck. He also made remarks with sexual connotations to Mrs. Rioux. She tried to inform her director, but she postponed the meeting. Following various similar incidents, Mrs. Rioux felt anxious and felt the need to consult her doctor. He prescribes her a work stoppage.

Despite the repeated complaints of the worker, the director concluded, without investigating, that it was only a misunderstanding. Only Mr. Provencher was interviewed and he trivialized the events. Management did not try to verify the well-foundedness of the complaint, but merely offered Mrs. Rioux a meeting in the presence of Mr. Provencher. The complainant refused the offer. During her work stoppage, Mrs. Rioux did not contact her employer nor did the employer try to reach her. The following season, management concluded that she had resigned when she didn’t show up.

Clearly the repeated touching of the complainant despite her disagreement constitutes a form of psychological harassment. The accumulation of incidents in a short period of time shows a harmful conduct.  In this case, the Commission des relations du travail reiterated that the employer must take all reasonable measures to stop a vexatious behavior when it is brought to its attention.

  • The employer had a prevention policy on psychological harassment but no concrete action was taken to stop the behavior;
  • Without any thorough investigation, the employer did not fulfill his obligations;
  • The fact that the complainant was on disability leave did not relieve the employer from his obligation to investigate;
  • The employer stopped all communication with Mrs. Rioux, after she left on disability leave; this shows indifference towards the situation.


31% of Quebec workers have already been witnesses or victims of psychological harassment at work. Three factors play a key role in such situations: individual, organizational and social factors. How does a business manage the risks related to psychological harassment at work?

  • With a prevention policy;
  • With a conflict resolution mechanism;
  • How does an enterprise react when facing a complaint of psychological harassment at work?

Proactive management, focusing on the causes of psychological harassment can reduce the costs related by those situations. For example: less turnover, less absenteeism and less legal costs.

Having policies that reflect the image of your business is a strategic tool in the preventive management of psychological harassment but also in the satisfaction of the obligations of the employer under the Act respecting labor standards.

For more information, contact Patrick L. Benaroche, partner at the Montreal office of Stikeman Elliott.

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