Potential legal concerns

A framework to help your organization prevent discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, bullying, trauma, burnout and negative impacts to employee health and well-being, as well as possible legal concerns and risks to the employer.

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Guarding Minds at Work identifies psychosocial factors that impact the psychological health and safety of employees. It also asks about specific areas of concern that require immediate and effective attention. These include:

  • Discrimination
  • Harassment, including sexual harassment
  • Bullying
  • Exposure to trauma
  • Stress that impacts health and well-being

Each of the following steps can help your organization review, address and prevent these concerns.

Seek legal advice

Since most or all of these concerns can lead to human rights violations, litigation, disability claims or psychological injury of employees, it is important to understand regulations in these areas before and as you develop policies and procedures.

For existing situations, legal counsel can also provide advice about how to proceed.

Explore the need for investigation

If you have any indication that the specific areas of concern are relevant for any of your employees, you should take steps to investigate any potential issues that could lead to litigation or health risks.

Communicating that anyone who may be experiencing bullying, harassment, or discrimination can confidentially share their experience with someone in your workplace who is safe and objective may encourage them to come forward.

Even if no one is willing to come forward to share their experience, survey results that indicate these specific concerns may be happening should lead to actions that can help prevent these types of issues from arising in the future.

Set up a task group

If possible, include policy and decision makers in this group, as well as frontline employees and worker representatives or union reps who are familiar with the hazards and experiences in your workplace.

Develop or refine policies

Some of the questions the task group could answer are:

  • What are the relevant laws and regulations related to this issue?
  • What policies and procedures do we have now that impact this issue?
  • How have existing policies and procedures been communicated and how frequently? How effective has this process been?
  • To what extent are our existing policies and procedures followed?
  • Are our policies and procedures effective in preventing this issue from occurring? If not, what type of risks do we need to address?
  • How can we improve upon these policies and procedures? Do best practices exist? Do similar organizations have policies we could review?
  • What resources are available that could help us? 
  • What consequences should there be for failing to comply with the policy?
  • How can we support implementation of the new policy and procedure?
  • What challenges might employees and leaders face when adopting these changes? How can we address those challenges?
  • What would we propose as our new policy and procedure?
  • How can we engage employees to critique our ideas and provide feedback on making it better?
  • Once we have integrated employee feedback and had legal review, how will we communicate this new policy and procedure to employees and leaders?
  • How will we hold all employees and leaders accountable to comply with the new policy?

Relevant resources

Identify and incorporate best practices for protecting employee psychological safety in your policies and procedures. Psychological health and safety policy recommendations can help. Additional resources based on each Guarding Minds statements follow.

All employees are free from discrimination at work.1

  • Provide training for leaders around harassment, discrimination and bullying.
  • Review your current approach to promoting inclusivity and preventing discrimination with Discrimination prevention and inclusivity.
  • Learn to identify and understand Implicit bias, microaggressions and intersectionality. Whether the bias results in poor morale or discrimination, identifying it is the first step to eliminating it.

I am currently being harassed (verbally, physically, or sexually) at work.

  • Review your current approach to Violence prevention and Harassment and bullying prevention.
  • Workers, supervisors, and employers may have rights and duties when dealing with workplace violence and harassment. Become familiar with the law related to violence and harassment in your jurisdiction. This Ontario resource | PDF provides guidance on Ontario’s legislation, but each province or territory is likely to have something similar.

I am currently being bullied at work.

I am currently being treated unfairly at work because I have a mental illness.

  • In addition to considering potential discrimination, look at approaches to Accommodation strategies that include supporting the success of employees with mental illness.
  • See Employee mental health issues for strategies to leverage resources, manage co-worker reactions and support a successful return to work after a leave. 

My work threatens my psychological health.

Many more resources are available on this site and we encourage you to explore.

1. The Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination due to race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.  Each of the provinces and territories has similar human rights legislation.

Contributors include.articlesDan BilskerDavid K. MacDonaldDr. Heather StuartDr. Joti SamraDr. Martin ShainMary Ann BayntonMerv GilbertPhilip PerczakSarah JennerSusan JakobsonWorkplace Strategies team 2022 to present

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