Increased Supervision And Psychological Harassment: How To Exercise The Right To Manage

Author:Ms Maria Fernandes and Misha Benjamin
Profession:Borden Ladner Gervais LLP

Edited by Jennifer M. Fantini and Naomi E. Calla

Since the inclusion of a specific provision concerning psychological harassment in Quebec employment law, there has been a significant increase in litigation involving psychological harassment.

The Québec's Act Respecting Labour Standards1 defines psychological harassment as:

Any vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures, that affects an employee's dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that results in a harmful work environment for the employee.

Vexatious behaviour: A single serious incidence of such behaviour that has a lasting harmful effect on an employee may also constitute psychological harassment.

This is an important factor to consider when addressing performance issues, as increased monitoring of an employee's work can be misconstrued by an employee as harassment.

A recent decision from Québec's Labour Relations Commission, Michaud v. Allstate du Canada2, shows how corrective measures can be misinterpreted by an employee as harassment. The employee's job involved frequent phone calls with clients and the employer would monitor an average of two calls per month for each of the employees in that position. However, as the plaintiff's performance deteriorated, the employer began monitoring more calls, up to eight per month. Simultaneously, the plaintiff's supervisor also called her more, even sometimes several times a day, to discuss her performance. At a certain point, the plaintiff alleged that her health had begun to deteriorate. She took a leave of absence and never returned to work.

The plaintiff alleged that these measures constituted harassment because the additional oversight, evaluations and multiple phone calls were excessive. Moreover, she claimed that the evaluations did not reflect her true performance and that she was not given tools to improve. Finally, she claimed that the employer called her frequently once she was away on a leave of absence, which added to her stress.

It was decided in this case that there was no psychological harassment, despite the fact that the plaintiff's work environment contributed to the...

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