Podcast Title: Health and Safety to Go!


Episode #: 157 Harassment in the Workplace: An Interview with Jan Chappel



Introduction: Welcome to Health and Safety to Go, broadcasting from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.


Host:† ††Gossip, intimidation and offensive jokes. These are just a few forms of harassment that can be found in the workplace. ††Thank you for joining us for this episode of Health and Safety to Go. Today we are going to tackle the topic of harassment in the workplace with the help of our guest Jan Chappel from CCOHS.


Thanks for joining us Jan. Letís start with the basics, how do you explain harassment?


Jan: †Thanks Chris, I always like to start with some definitions, just so we are all coming from the same place.† Harassment can be an unwelcome remark or joke based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, or disability. Workplace harassment is a form of discrimination. It involves an unwanted physical or verbal behaviour that offends or humiliates someone.


Generally, harassment is behaviour that persists over time, but a serious one-time incident can also be considered harassment.† So those are some definitions.† Itís important to know because when we look at things being done for say mental health in the workplace, there is strong evidence that certain features of the workplace can affect an employees' mental and physical health. These factors include demoralization, depressed mood, anxiety, burnout, you know weíve all seen that in our workplaces. †In fact, the definition of mental health from the CSA standard Z1003 Psychological health and safety in the workplace, a definition is ďa state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.Ē

So, if an individual is dealing with a situation where they felt offended or humiliated, you can see how this is definitely not a positive experience and how it can affect a number of aspects in their lives.

Can you give our listeners some examples of harassment?


Jan:† Sure, generally speaking, harassment can be repeated or persistent actions towards an individual, whether intentional or not, but these actions will torment, undermine, frustrate or maybe provoke a reaction from that person. It is a behaviour that with persistence, pressures, frightens, intimidates or incapacitates the other person. 


Host: †What are some of the obvious and not so obvious effects that harassment can have on a person, specifically in a workplace environment?


Jan: †Well, weíve actually already used several words to describe the effects of harassment so far.† We Ďve talked about offending, humiliating, tormenting, undermining, frustrating, provoking a reaction, putting pressure on a person, frightening them, intimidating them, incapacitating them.† These are all very serious effects.† We know that employees who are experiencing harassment can be affected either physically or psychologically or both.† And everyone reacts to incidents in their own way, but common responses can range from low morale to low productivity, to say changes in eating or changes in sleeping patterns. There can be denial, panic, anxiety, increased issues with family or co-workers, depression, fear. There have even been situations where people may develop post-traumatic stress disorder or have thoughts of suicide.

What should you do if you think that you or someone you know is being harassed at work?

Jan:†† This is really one of those things that you really have to address the situation.† Know that you do not have to tolerate behaviour at work that is unreasonable or offends or harms you and there are steps you can take if you feel you are being harassed. †If you are unable to discuss the situation with the person responsible for the unwanted behaviour, you can report the situation to the person identified in your workplace policy.† This may be your supervisor, a human resources manager, or a delegated person.† You may also discuss the situation with your union representative, if you have one. †Now if you feel your concerns are not being addressed properly, you can proceed to the next level of reporting, and this is usually indicated in your policy.

We also encourage people to keep a journal or a diary of events to record things like date and time and what happened, in as much detail as possible.† If there were any witnesses, thatís another good detail to record and what happened with the event.† Remember, it is not just the characteristics of the incident, but the number and frequency, and especially the pattern of behaviour that can reveal bullying and harassment.† For example, you might want to keep any copies of letters, memos, or emails or something that you received from the person.

We do caution and please be careful, itís very natural to want to strike back or speak up for yourself the way you have been treated, but donítí retaliate.† You may end up looking like the perpetrator and will most certainly cause confusion for anyone trying to evaluate the situation, moving forward.

Host: What is the employerís role or responsibility where harassment is concerned?


Jan:† Yes, there is actually a legal duty for the employer to protect the mental and physical health of employees, this includes protection from harassment. Many provincial occupational health and safety acts now include harm to psychological well-being in their definition. Harassment can be a policy on its own or it can be covered under a bigger workplace violence policy.† Essentially you want that commitment from management to work towards prevention.† Here are some dos and doníts:

Please define what you mean by workplace harassment in very precise, concrete language.† Give examples of what is unacceptable behaviour and working conditions.† You also want to outline the confidential process that employees can use when they are reporting incidents and to whom they are going to report that to. Encourage reporting and make sure you treat all complaints seriously.

Itís important to try to deal with the situation promptly as well as confidentially.† Part of this will be training your supervisors and managers in how to deal with situations. Encourage people to address situations whether there has been a formal complaint or not. You donít want that situation to get bigger than it needs to.

In some cases, you may need to have an impartial third party to help with the resolution, and that can be s mechanism thatís set-up through your policy.† Educate everyone whoís in your workplace, what is considered bullying and what is not, and again who they can go to for help.† As well, offer confidential Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to help people who may need additional help as well.

At the same time do not ignore the issue and do not delay any resolution. Itís always important to act as soon as possible.


Host: Before we wrap up Jan, is there anything more that you would like to add to the topic of harassment?


Jan:† Yes, I know this is one of those topics when Iím delivering presentations, it can be a very difficult topic to deal with.†† We do encourage everyone at the workplace to act towards others in a respectful and professional manner.† Letís be honest, you donít have to be best friends with everybody in your workplace but civility and respect are a very much the cornerstone to having a positive mentally healthy workplace.

Also take harassment seriously.† It can be a very truly negative situation that affects many aspects of a personís life, whether its work, home, their health, and like we say, we know it can be very difficult to address, but it is very essential that you do.




Host: ††Thanks for delving into this important subject and sharing your knowledge with us today Jan. You can find resources, tools and articles on workplace harassment on the CCOHS website at ccohs.ca.† Thanks for listening everyone!