March 31, 2004by Israel Foulon LLP
Question: My co-worker is from Albania and he is always being made fun of by our co-workers. When my manager witnesses this, he does not try to stop this behaviour. What should my co-worker do? Is my manager obliged to help?
Answer: All provinces and territories do not permit harassment based on prohibited grounds of discrimination. Place of origin, ethnic origin and citizenship are all prohibited grounds of discrimination. Employees have the right to be treated with civility, decency, respect and dignity in the workplace.
Any demeaning or offensive behaviour based on membership or perceived membership in a protected group can be harassment. This includes verbal threats, intimidation, jokes, unwelcome remarks or offensive pictures and posters. Harassment can be inflicted not only by the employer but by co-workers, customers, clients or anyone connected with the workplace. All harassment in the workplace violates human rights laws, regardless of who is inflicting it.
Employers are required to provide employees with a work environment free of harassment. Employers are required by law to take steps to prevent and deal with harassment in the workplace. They can be held responsible for harassment in the workplace even if they are completely unaware the harassment was occurring.
If an employee is being harassed he should approach the harassers and tell them to stop. The employee should make it clear this behaviour is unwelcome. If the employee is uncomfortable approaching the harasser the employee should approach a member of management with his concerns. If there is a company harassment policy the employee should follow its stated procedure. It is also important to document and maintain a written record of the incidents of harassment.
Complaints to the employer regarding harassment should be investigated quickly and thoroughly. If the employer is not of assistance other options are available. An employee who is a union member may approach a union representative and the union may be able to file a grievance on behalf of the employee. The local human rights body should be contacted to provide advice and assistance.
Peter Israel is the senior partner in the Toronto law firm of Israel Foulon LLP – Employment and Labour Lawyers. He can be reached at 416-640-1550 or firstname.lastname@example.org. A version of this article originally appeared in the Carswell publication, Canadian Employment Law Today