Monday, June 13, 2005

Year One of the Workplace Anti-Bullying Law in Quebec

On June 1, 2004, a new law took effect in Quebec to prevent “hostile behavior and intimidation” in the workplace. The law is considered unique in North America.

This amendment to Quebec’s Labour Standards Act prohibits "psychological harassment", defined as "any vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures, that affects an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that results in a harmful work environment for the employee."

These standards clarify the employer’s obligations that already exist under the provisions of the Civil Code of Québec and the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. These provisions establish the right to dignity, to respect and to the person’s integrity, while guaranteeing employees fair and sufficient conditions of employment and a healthy work environment.

Last Friday, some 350 HR and industrial relations professionals gathered at a conference to analyze the first year of the law's application. The conference was jointly organized by the Commission des normes du travail (Labour Standards Commission of Quebec) and the Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines et en relations industrielles agréés du Québec (Quebec Order of Human Resources and Industrial Relations Professionals).

Since the coming into force of the new anti-bullying provisions, the Labour Standards Commission has dealt with approximately 2,500 complaints, 48% of which have been settled.

432 complaints were settled to the mutual satisfaction of employee and employer. The Commission also undertook 293 fuller investigations.

About 300 complaints were dropped for a variety of reasons: some individuals decided to turn the page, others saw their workplace situation improve after contacting the Commission, others withdrew after developing a better understanding of the legal definition of psychological harassment and the role of the law.

1,300 files are still open.

The law says that this activity can come from a manager, fellow-employee, customer or supplier. It can manifest itself in the form of conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures characterized by the following criteria: they are repetitive; they are hostile and unwanted; they affect the person’s dignity or psychological integrity; and they result in a harmful work environment. It includes humiliating or abusive behaviour that lowers a person’s self-esteem or causes his torment.

According to an interpretation text explaining the new provisions, "(T)he vexatious nature is generally gauged from the standpoint of the person experiencing the situation and who is reporting it, without regard for the harasser’s intentions. In the majority of cases, the assessment will deal with the nature, intensity and recurrence of the objectionable gestures, as well as their impact on the victim (...) The hostile gestures towards the employee are not necessarily flagrant. Indeed, it is not essential that such a gesture be aggressive in nature in order for it to be considered hostile. For example, an employee could be the victim of comments, actions or gestures which, when taken on their own, may seem harmless or insignificant, but the accumulation or combination of them may be considered a harassment situation. In such a case, if the employee works alone most of the time, the hostile gestures will not necessarily be noticeable at first."

The interim director of the Commission, Jocelyn Girard, told last week's conference that it is important to note that there were extremely few frivolous complaints, something that had been feared during the debates leading up the adoption of the legislation. Mr. Girard explained that "the complaints received gave the indication of a lot of suffering, incivility, lack of respect, management problems or badly handled conflicts that degenerate and create an unhealthy working climate".

This year, the Commission will continue its education efforts and focus on helping workplaces develop prevention mechanisms to stop bullying before it starts.

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 7:48 pm

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