From Sexual to Psychological Harassment: One Step Forward, Twenty-Five Years Back for Women's Equality at Work?

AuthorRachel Cox
ProfessionProfessor of law at the Faculty of Political Science and Law of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM) and a member of the Québec Bar
chapter 9
Rachel Cox 1
In 2004, adoption of legislation guaranteeing a work environment free
from psychological harassment i n Québec appeared to be a victory for
all employees, but particularly so for women. Psychological harassment
itself is a gendered phenomenon. In Québec, as is the situation else-
where, women are more often than men the ta rgets of psychologica l
harassment, and men are more often than women the ones doing the
harassing.2 It would appear that gender even trumps hierarchical rela-
1 Rachel Cox is a profe ssor of law at the Facult y of Political Science a nd Law
of the Universit é du Québec à Montréal (UQÀ M) and a member of the Qué-
bec Bar.
2 Katherine Lippel, “ Le harcèlement psy chologique au travai l : portrait des
recours jur idiques au Québec et des dé cisions rendues par l a Commission
des lésions professi onnelles” (2005) 7:3 Perspective s interdiscipl inaires
sur le trava il et la santé (PIST ES), online: PISTES w
v7n3/pdf/v7 n3a13.pdf; Carole Dupéré, “ Pour en connaîtr e d’avantage
sur les person nes ayant porté pla inte pour harcèleme nt psychologique à
la Commiss ion des normes du travai l” (2009) 5 Regards sur le travai l 40;
Ruth Simpson & Cl aire Cohen, “Danger ous Work; The Gendered Natu re
of Bullyi ng in the Context of Hig her Education” (2004) 11:2 Gender, Work
and Organ isation 163. For racia lized women, see Sus y Fox & Lamont E
Stallwor th, “Race and Et hnicity as Fac tors in Workplace Bully ing” (Paper
delivered at t he symposium Work, Stres s, and Health Ma rch 2008 Confer-
ence, Washing ton, DC) [Fox & Stallwort h, “Race and Et hnicity”]. Care ful
analysi s is necessary t o determine to wha t extent the sexu al segregation
of the labour m arket and the nat ure of typica l women’s work are related to
these ndings.
rachel cox
tionships at work, as hierarchica l power in the workplace insu lates men,
but not women, from hara ssment by their hierar chical subordinat es.3
Power and specically unequa l power relationships are centra l to
the notion of psychologica l harassment,4 just as they are to sexual ha-
rassment5 and racial harassment.6 Research on incivility and harass-
ment in the workplace reveals a latent, systemically discriminator y
element even in cases in which the incivilit y or harassment initially
appears to be of a purely individua l nature.7 At the same t ime, blatant
sex and race discrimination has become less socially acceptable.8 This
suggests t hat in the current lega l framework, psychological h arassment
legislation could be a crucial addition to human rights legislation in
order to protect women workers from more insidious manifestations of
power imbala nces between men and women. Recours e in cases of psycho-
3 Katherine Lippe l et al., “Chapitre 5: Violence au tr avail : harcèle ment
psychologique, h arcèlement sexuel e t violence physique” in Ins titut na-
tional de sa nté publique du Québec, In stitut de la sta tistique du Québec e t
Instit ut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en s anté et sécurité du t ravail, Enquêt e
québécoise sur des conditi ons de travail d’emploi et de santé et de sécurité du
travail (EQCOTESST) (Montréal: I RSST, 2011) at 335 [EQCOTESST], onli ne:
Instit ut national de san té publique du Québec ww
4 Denise Salin , “Workplace Bullyi ng among Business P rofessionals: Pre va-
lence, Gender Di erences and the Role of Org anizationa l Politics” (2005)
7:3 Perspect ives interdiscipl inaires su r le travail et la s anté (PISTES), on-
line: PISTES
5 Catharine Mac Kinnon, The S exual Harassment of Working Women: A Cas e of
Sex Discrimin ation (New Haven, CT: Yale Universit y Press, 1979) [MacKin-
non, Sexual Harass ment].
6 Qué bec (Commission des droits de la per sonne et des droits de la jeunesse) c Qué-
bec (Procure ur général), 2008 QCTDP 8 at paras 1 23 [Pavilus].
7 For example, higher preva lence rates of haras sment for Africa n-American
teachers dro pped o when school princip als were also A frican-America ns.
Perpetra tors tend to select rac ial and ethn ic minorities as t he targets of
their (appare ntly) purely psycholog ical harassme nt. See Fox & Stallwor th,
“Race and Et hnicity,” above note 2. See a lso Susy Fox & Lamont E Sta ll-
worth, “R acial/ethnic Bu llying: Ex ploring the Lin ks between Bul lying and
Racism in t he U.S. Workplace” (2005) 66 Journal of Vocational Be havior 438.
8 Sa ndy Lim & Lili a M Cortina, “I nterpersonal M istreatment i n the Work-
place: The Inter face and Impact of G eneral Incivi lity and Sexu al Harass-
ment” (2005) 90 Journal of Appl ied Psychology 483; Li lia M Cortin a,
“Unseen Inju stice: Incivi lity as Modern Di scrimin ation in Organi zations”
(2008) 33 Academy of Manageme nt Review 55; Ruth Simpson & C laire
Cohen, “Dangero us Work; The Gendered Natu re of Bullying i n the Context
of Higher Educat ion” (2004) 11:2 Gender, Work and Organisat ion 163.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
From Sexual to P sychological Harassm ent
logical haras sment is thus potentia lly one more tool in women’s struggle
for equalit y in the workplace.
In Québec, provis ions on psychological ha rassment are housed i n the
Act respecting Labour Standards.9 Psychologica l harassment is dene d as:
. . . any vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated and hostile or
unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or ges tures, that af-
fects an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity
and that res ults in a harm ful work environme nt for the employee.
A single seriou s incidence of such behaviour that has a lasting
harmf ul eect on an employee may also constitute psychological
The denition of psychological harassment is largely inspired by
the denition of sexual ha rassment laid out by the Supreme Court of
Canada in t he landmark Janzen v Platy Enterpr ises Ltd case11 and elabor-
ated on by the Québec Cour t of Appeal in Habachi c Québec (Commiss ion
des droits de la personne).12 It is common ground that the denition of
psychological ha rassment encompasses all forms of discriminatory
harassment i ncluding sexual a nd racial harass ment.13
The non-unionized employee who believes that she or he is being
harassed at work ca n lay a complaint with the Labour Standards Com-
mission as soon as her or his dignity is aected. The Commission con-
ducts an investigation into the complaint and works w ith the par ties
in an attempt to settle the compla int.14 If the Commission considers
the complaint to be wel l-founded and attempts at mediation are un-
successful , the Commission’s litigation depar tment assumes carr iage of
the complaint (at no charge to the worker) before the Labour Relations
Board.15 The Labour Re lations Board then holds a hear ing and renders a
decision on t he complaint.16
9 RSQ 1979, c N-1.1 [Labour Standards A ct].
10 Ibid, s81.18.
11 Janzen v Platy Enter prises Ltd., [1989] 1 SCR 1252 [Janzen].
12 Habachi c Québec (Commi ssion des droits de la personne), 1999 CanLI I 13338
(QC CA).
13 JurisCla sseur Rapports individuel s et collectifs du travail, fas c 23 by Katherine
Lippel, Rac hel Cox, & Isabelle Aubé , No 321 [JurisCl asseur].
14 Labour Standards Act, ab ove note 9, ss123.8, 123.10, and 123 .12.
15 Ibid, ss123.12–123.13.
16 Ibid, ss123.14–123.16.

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