Respectful Workplace Policies: An in-depth look at how harassment is handled in the Union

By William Sumerlus, OE987

Every worker in Manitoba has the right to be free from harassment in the workplace. That does not only mean harassment by supervisors or bosses. It means that co-workers must behave respectfully towards each other. In fact, if an employer does not act to prevent one employee from harassing a co-worker, the employer will be in breach of the Human Rights Code of Manitoba. It is an offence under the Code for an employer to fail to take steps to prevent the harassment of one worker by another. Harassment is also dealt with in the Workplace Safety and Health Act and regulations of Manitoba.

According to section 10 of the Workplace Safety and Health Regulation 217/2006 every employer must develop and implement a written policy to prevent harassment in the workplace. Harassment includes objectionable and severe conduct towards a worker. Conduct is “objectionable” if it is based on race, creed, religion, colour, sex, sexual orientation, gender-based determined characteristics, marital status, family status, source of income, political belief, political association, political activity, disability, physical size or weight, age, nationality, ancestry, or place of origin. Conduct is “severe” if it could reasonably cause a worker to be humiliated or intimidated and is repeated, or in the case of a single occurrence, has a lasting, harmful effect on a worker. The regulation also includes written or verbal comments and physical acts, gestures or displays which may be included in the definition of objectionable conduct.

Employers still have the right to manage the workplace as the regulation also includes a provision that reasonable conduct by an employer or supervisor in respect of the management and direction of workers or the workplace is not harassment. However, this does not give an employer the right to display the kind of objectionable or severe conduct as described above, towards an employee.

Every employer must also develop and implement a written harassment policy and ensure that workers comply with it. The policy should be developed in consultation with the workplace safety committee or if there is no committee, the workers at the workplace. Each policy should contain statements that every worker is entitled to be free from harassment, that the employer will take corrective action in the event of harassment. The policy should also provide a process for filing and investigating a complaint of harassment. A copy of the policy should be posted prominently in the workplace.

Respectful workplace complaints can be difficult for the Union to handle because they may pit one member against another. While we do not condone the harassment of any member, we have a duty to fairly represent everyone in our bargaining unit, even those who are alleged to have harassed another member. While a single isolated incident may not result in discharge, repeated conduct like that described above likely will.