June 19, 2024

Preventing Harassment in the Workplace: Lessons from an Arbitration Decision

Preventing Harassment in the Workplace: Lessons from an Arbitration Decision

In a February 2024 arbitration ruling, the Tribunal highlighted that when a representative of the Employer fails to take action in conflictual situations in the workplace, it not only breaches their legal obligation to prevent harassment, but such negligence may also constitute, in and of itself, psychological harassment.

In the arbitration ruling Syndicat de l’enseignement de l’Outaouais et Centre de services scolaire au Coeur-des-Vallées (Geneviève Groleau) [1], an elementary school teacher filed a grievance alleging that her Employer failed to take action to stop the ongoing harassment she was experiencing from her colleagues.

The Tribunal ultimately found that the comments and gestures that the Complainant experienced from her colleagues were the result of “interpersonal conflicts” and “professional differences”. The arbitrator concluded that she was the victim of “serious incivility,” but that her colleagues’ conduct was not vexatious, and as such, did not constitute harassment.

Nonetheless, the Tribunal still concluded to the presence of psychological harassment based on the school Director’s inaction, who continuously failed to intervene among his employees. Despite being informed on multiple occasions by the Complainant and other teachers about the unhealthy work environment, the Director failed to take proactive measures to intervene. The arbitrator characterized the Director’s failure as follows:

Director Paquette did not implement any specific measures, in the belief that the passage of time would resolve the situation. On the contrary, the situation has steadily deteriorated. He showed a total lack of initiative in this regard and was certainly not proactive. 

The Complainant wrote e-mails to him on numerous occasions, and in the majority of cases, he ignored or skimmed them.[2] [Our translation]

This decision serves as a reminder of the Director’s responsibilities, as a representative of the Employer, to exercise proactive leadership without “sitting idly” by [our translation].[3] Importantly, leaders must take action when faced with conflict in the workplace. Finally, the arbitrator emphasizes that “nonchalance, indifference and failure to take action” not only contravene the Employer’s duty to prevent psychological harassment, but such inaction can also amount to manifestations of psychological harassment.

At Latitude, we provide training sessions aimed at enhancing Employer Representatives’ abilities in conflict prevention and harassment management. Furthermore, to foster safe and healthy workplaces, we offer a range of services including group facilitation, mediation, and climate analysis. For further details, please visit our website and get in touch with us.

[1] 2024 QCTA 87.

[2] Ibid., page 72.

[3] Ibid., page 73.

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