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Can COVID-19 Be Linked to a Rise in Workplace Harassment and Conflict ?

published 2 months ago
by juliet
A Counterintuitive Reality

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, psychological harassment and conflict in the workplace have become more pressing issue than ever. Although many employees now find themselves working from home, harassment and conflict at work remain prevalent. Among other challenges, the new working environment imposed by physical distancing measures has disrupted communication dynamics and affected employees’ sense of belonging. This new environment may give rise to conflict or psychological harassment in the form of actions, interactions and behaviours.

Significant Rise in the Number of Filed Complaints

In the last two years, the number of complaints filed with the Quebec Labour Standards has jumped by 22%, increasing from 3,617 in 2016 to 4,415 in 2019[1]. The CNESST also recorded almost four times as many claims for compensation linked to workplace harassment during this same period, increasing from 386 in 2016 to 1,311 in 2019[2].

Recent changes in workplace legislation have contributed to this notable increase. Since June 12, 2018, the Quebec Labour Standards Act[3] has expanded its definition of psychological harassment to include both psychological and sexual harassment. In addition, employers must implement a clear workplace harassment prevention policy as of January 1, 2019. The government has also funded several programs to raise awareness and combat psychological and sexual harassment in the workplace.  Finally, employees now have two years, rather than just 90 days, to file a complaint with CNESST.

When Harassment Hits the Headlines

Most employers are now aware of the harassment allegations made at Ubisoft[4], fuelled in part by the revelations of certain employees on social media. However, this company is not the only business impacted by harassment; in Quebec, other major cases have also made headlines, including Marie-Pierre Morin, Éric Salvail and Gilbert Rozon. Hopefully, the media coverage of these alleged cases will serve to remind companies of their obligation to ensure that they have implemented the resources, tools and organizational structures that provide employees with “the right to a working environment that safeguards their physical and psychological dignity,” in compliance with the law.

Prevention is Better than a Cure

Psychological harassment complaints can have significant repercussions for employers. Potential consequences include costly investigations, legal proceedings, heavy fines, lost productivity, and increased employee turnover, not to mention the untold impact on the physical and mental health of affected employees, as well as their families and friends.

Human resources experts, particularly those who specialize in Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DRP), often observe that most employers take on a reactive approach.  However, it is important to note that there are many approaches, resources and methods available to employers, whether they are already facing a situation of harassment, or if they are seeking to prevent it.  Interventions in this area may include drawing up a portrait of the situation, as well as training, coaching, support, facilitation, mediation, participatory approaches and measures to improve the working climate.

In light of recent changes to the law and the negative repercussions of harassment cases, adopting a preventative approach serves to benefit everyone, both employers and employees. Contact our expert mediators and investigators to learn more about the DRP methods available to you.

[1] https://www.cnesst.gouv.qc.ca/salle-de-presse/campagnes/normes/Pages/campagne-normes.aspx

[2] https://www.lapresse.ca/affaires/2020-08-13/plus-de-4400-denonciations-de-harcelement-au-travail-l-an-dernier.php

[3] https://www.cnesst.gouv.qc.ca/salle-de-presse/campagnes/normes/Pages/campagne-normes.aspx

[4]  https://www.lapresse.ca/affaires/2020-07-03/allegations-de-harcelement-chez-ubisoft-un-probleme-aux-ressources-humaines.php

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