Discrimination at Work

Is your employer responsible for intervening and resolving discrimination at work?

Yes, all employers are required to effectively, justly and timely address any situation that involves claims of harassment or discriminatory behaviour. The methods in which an employer is required to respond can manifest itself in a variety of different ways to ensure that workplace discrimination and harassment are not tolerated. An employer may have the following in place as fundamental tools to deal with human rights issues; a complaint procedure in place, corporate awareness, taking complaints seriously, acting upon any complaint made in a timely manner, enforcing a healthy work environment or communicating with staff regarding complaints.

What if there is no complaint?

A lack of complaint does not mean that there is not an issue present. Employees will often come forward to address any issues of harassment or discrimination at work, however, in some cases employees may decide not to report any human rights issues. In many sexual harassment situations, internal strategies are used to cope with the situation rather than bringing it forward out of fear. There are different factors that influence the likelihood of an employee reporting a harassment or discriminatory instance. The relationship with senior management, the expected response they will get, and what alternatives they can expect if they were to lose their position if they create conflict. These are only a few of the barriers that discourage employees from speaking up.

Why do employees neglect to report incidences of human rights violations?

In many cases where an employee reports or files a complaint of harassment or discrimination at work, they experienced severe ramifications as a direct result. If an employee raises an allegation, negative impacts are felt not only in the workplace but internally, at home, and on one’s health. An example of a negative effect as a result of reporting a human rights violation could be the employer not taking the matter seriously or not believing the complainant or the complainant gaining a reputation of a ‘problem maker’.

Employer’s obligation to employees

It is the obligation of an employer to provide a positive work environment that has a zero tolerance for any behaviour that directly violates the human rights code. The employer should make all employees feel as though they can address any concerns or file complaints without any negative repercussions on themselves. Employers should be aware of any misuse of power or any other indications of discriminatory or harassment like behaviors. In some instances, the employer should be aware of the work environment and should be proactive in dealing with issues rather than waiting for a complaint to be filed or issue to be raised.

Employers are to ensure the personal Safety of ALL employees

There are multiple risks associated with harassment and discrimination at work. The risks to one’s personal safety may lead to serious health related problems. Issues such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, restlessness, high blood pressure and headaches can occur as a direct result of workplace discomfort from human rights violations. Harassment of any nature will affect an employee’s sense of self, integrity and overall mental, emotional and physical well-being. There are some cases where violence is an imminent threat whether threatened or real. This can result in bodily harm and serious hardship. If there is any reason to believe there is potential for violence in the workplace, it is the duty of an employer to do everything in their power to minimize the situation, diffuse the threat and inform proper authorities if necessary.

Prevention and Procedures in the Workplace

If an employer is required to contact authorities, it should be done so without any inappropriate influences such as stereotypes or racial bias. The best way to avoid this is to ensure that a policy in place identifies the violations that require authorities to be contacted. If an employee is fearful of a co-worker they may miss work due to the impeding threat. Chronic stress as a direct result of harassment or discrimination at work may hinder an employee’s ability to perform and attend work as outlined within their employment contracts. Many victims quit their jobs or find ways to cope internally. There are documented instances where extreme workplace violence occurs, resulting in serious injury or death. To avoid worst case scenarios, employers should introduce practices and procedures for employees to learn and follow to ensure a healthy environment. It is also important for an employer to support and respect any employees claim, and have procedures in place to ensure proper referrals are made to help employees seek additional support such as rape crisis centers.

Poisoned Environments

The workplace atmosphere has been indicated to be just as important as hours of work or rate of pay by many tribunals. Employers and senior staff are expected to address any issues of poisoned environments. The obligation exists even if they are not involved, they have not experienced a poisoned environment themselves, if the harassment or discrimination is done anonymously, a complaint has not been filed or if the violations have been carried out by third parties such as clients.

What is Mobbing and Bullying?

Mobbing is described as an ongoing systematic oppression or bullying of an individual done so by co-workers. Mobbing is often a result of peer pressure and will involve multiple employees. This type of behaviour has been noted as more prevalent than sexual harassment or racial discrimination. Often mobbing includes the exclusion of an employee from social situations, rudeness or physical intimidation. Mobbing can be intentional or unintentional. The cumulative effects of mobbing incidents account for unproductive time, and research shows that 50% of the time spent at work is used to defend or deal with instances of mobbing rather than accomplishing tasks.

How is Mobbing and Bullying dealt with?

Mobbing is not strictly defined within the code, although the behaviour effects an employee’s ability to work. This should still be addressed by employers even where no code grounds are indicated. Mobbing and bullying both create an unfair, unproductive and poisoned work environment and should always be addressed by an employer to prevent the workplace culture from positive to negative.

Employees who are protected by the code are more vulnerable to bullying and harassment in the form of mobbing by the dominated culture. If an employer does not recognize this or address it, they are liable under the code. In conjunction with work related stress, any form of pre-existing disability or oppression as a result from stereotypes, mobbing and bullying can have an immense toll on an employee. It is the obligation of an employer to ensure a positive work environment and to promote inclusion, acceptance and respect.

If you are an employee and have been discriminated against or treated unfairly, call us today at (647)946-6440, or email us at [email protected] to further discuss your rights at your workplace.

If you are an employer and do not have policies against discrimination, you may be found liable regarding the discrimination that your supervisors, managers, or employees subject other employees to. Make sure you get in touch with us today at (647)946-6440, or email us at [email protected] to have your workplace in compliance with anti-discrimination legislation, particularly Human Rights laws.

  • This post is made with contributions from Sara Stephen

**Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to serve as, or should be construed as legal advice, and is only to provide general information. It is in no way particular to your case and should not be relied on in any way. No portion or use of this blog will establish a lawyer-client relationship with the author or any related party. Should you require legal advice for your particular situation, fill out the contact form, call(647)946-6440, or email [email protected].