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Q&A: Do you have the right to a harassment-free work environment?

Whitten and Lublin | Jun 01, 2015

QUESTION

I have decided that my experience with my boss is in fact harassment and bullying. My performance is over managed, and performance reviews are used as a form of discipline, not coaching. I’m unjustly criticized and made to feel unwelcome. It’s humiliating. I have a doctor’s note detailing the high levels of anxiety and panic I developed. What options do I have? 

ANSWER

Legislation and a Harassment-Free Work Environment

Under Ontario’s occupational health and safety legislation, you have a right to a harassment-free work environment. The actions to which you are subjected must amount to something more than just a personality conflict, and rise up to something along the lines of malicious treatment. You may want to review your company’s anti-harassment policy (if one exists) and file a written harassment complaint. Your employer is obligated to investigate the allegations, and make a good faith determination as to the best course of action to address them.

Participating in an Investigation

You have a right to participate in the investigation and learn the outcome. You also have a right to be free from reprisals (i.e. punishments) for exercising your right to file the complaint. If this happens or the complaint is mishandled, you may have the right to treat your employment as terminated and seek a severance from the company.

Stepping Away From the Situation 

Given your health situation, it would make sense for you to be away from the workplace while this is happening. You can send your doctor’s note to your manager or HR, and inquire about your company’s short-term disability benefits – and if necessary, long-term disability benefits – for income replacement while you’re off work. If the company does not offer these benefits, you may be eligible for Employment Insurance medical benefits for up to 15 weeks. That will give you some time to regroup and consider further options going forward. You have the right to a harassment-free work environment and can step away from a situation that is affecting your health and well-being.