General workplace harassment

The Alberta Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on the grounds of race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religious beliefs, gender, age, physical disability, mental disability, marital status, family status, source of income and sexual orientation. You can read more about the protected areas.

Harassment occurs when a person is subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct. Where the harassment is based on a protected ground, it is contrary to the AHR Act. Harassment that is not based on a protected ground is not contrary to the AHR Act. This second kind of harassment is sometimes called general workplace harassment or personal harassment. For example, Bill supervises Joe. Bill and Joe support different hockey teams. Bill constantly insults Joe regarding his team. Whenever Joe responds, Bill gives Joe poor work shifts. As this poor treatment is not based on a protected ground but rather on team loyalties, it is not contrary to the AHR Act.

While a person cannot make a complaint under the AHR Act regarding general workplace harassment, alternatives may be available to the person including through an employer's employment policies, a collective agreement, or the courts. For example, in the Ontario case of Shah v. Xerox Canada Ltd., Shah, a long-time employee, resigned after his supervisor's harassing behaviour made it impossible for them to work together. This was not harassment under human rights law and, therefore, Shah could not make a human rights complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. He undertook the only option he had, which was to sue Xerox Canada Ltd. for forcing him to resign because of the intolerable work conditions. The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed with Shah that he was forced to resign from his job because of the supervisor's behaviour towards him. The court said that while employers can manage and discipline their employees, they cannot create an intolerable work environment.

Related Resources:

Bullying is unacceptable at any time and in any situation. Visit the Government of Alberta bullying page to find links to services and resources designed to help children, youth and adults prevent and deal with bullying. Also see:

Bullies at Work: What to know, what you can do
Employers: What you need to know about bullying in the workplace

Revised: August 26, 2010

 

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