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Personal Harassment

Personal Harassment is abusive, unfair, or demeaning treatment of a person or group of persons that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome and unwanted when:
a) such treatment abuses the power one person holds over another by virtue of their employment relationship or misuses authority associated with their position of employment;
b) such treatment has the effect of seriously threatening or intimidating a person, and such treatment has the effect of unreasonably interfering with a person’s or a group of persons’ employment or performance;
c) such treatment has the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

Conduct considered above means either repeated or persistent patterns of behaviour, direct or indirect, that when taken together constitute personal harassment; or a single act of sufficient severity to constitute personal harassment in its own right. Such conduct may occur within or outside of the workplace.

Where harassing or discriminatory behaviours are sufficiently severe and/or pervasive and cause significant and unreasonable interference to a person's study or work environment, they may be deemed as creating an intimidating, hostile and offensive work or study environment. A poisoned environment can interfere with and/or undermine work or academic performance and can cause emotional and psychological stress not experienced by other employees or students. As such, it results in unequal terms and conditions of employment or study and prevents or impairs full and equal enjoyment of employment or educational services, benefits, or opportunities. Although a person may not be the target of the behaviours, a person may feel the effects of certain harassing or discriminatory behaviours at their place of work or study.

Am I responsible for making it stop?

You may need to take steps to make sure that someone in a position of authority knows you are being harassed, but you are not the one responsible for making it stop.

When does offensive or inappropriate behavior become harassment?

This question often comes up. It is not an easy one to answer, because each situation must be considered on a case-by-case basis. There are some well-established views in court and tribunal decisions, however, that provide some guidance. These decisions reinforce the notion that harassment is a serious issue and that complaints of harassment should be addressed in a serious way. They also make it clear that not every offensive or hurtful act, by itself, constitutes harassment.

Examples of what constitutes harassment when repeated or one single severe event:

  • Yelling at, threatening, interrupting and or prohibiting an individual from speaking to others; Preventing individual from expressing themselves
  • Unwanted sexual advances; may or may not be accompanied by implicit or explicit threats or promises.
  • Making rude, humiliating or offensive remarks and / or gesture that seek to degrade or intimidate.
  • Discrediting individuals by spreading malicious gossip, ridiculing them, humiliating them, questioning their convictions or private life, shouting abuse at them, or name calling.
  • Coercing individuals to perform tasks that are inferior to their competencies, demean or belittle them, or set the individual up for failure.
  • Isolating individuals; no longer talking to them, denying or ignoring their presence, or distancing them from others.
  • Making fun of an individual’s beliefs, values, and political and/or religious choices.
  • Mocking an individual’s weak points.
  • Engaging in ‘bad faith’ complaints under a university policy.
  • Harassing a person based on a prohibited ground of discrimination (as described in Canadian Human Rights Act and contained in Dalhousie University’s Statement on Prohibited Discrimination).

Examples of what does not constitute harassment:

  • Normal exercise of management’s right to manage such as the day-to-day management of operations, performance at work or absenteeism, the assignment of tasks, reference checks, and the application of progressive discipline, up to and including termination, constitute the legitimate exercise of management’s authority. (Note. While exercising the normal managerial functions is not harassment, how such functions are exercised can risk giving rise to the potential for harassment or perceptions of harassment.)
  • Workplace conflict in itself, does not constitute harassment but could turn into harassment if no steps are taken to resolve the conflict.
  • Work related stress in itself does not constitute harassment, but the accumulation of stress factors may increase the risk of harassment.
  • Difficult conditions of employment, professional constraints, and organizational changes.
  • A single or isolated incident such as an inappropriate remark or having an abrupt manner.
  • A social relationship welcomed by both individuals.
  • Friendly consented gestures among co-workers such as a pat on the back.