Frequently asked questions on the Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution

  • Why was a renewed policy issued and a new directive introduced?

    The Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer initiated a comprehensive review of all mandatory people management policy instruments in 2009.

    The renewed Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution and the new Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process reinforce the responsibility of deputy heads for establishing and maintaining a respectful and harassment-free workplace; for promptly resolving related complaints; and for monitoring compliance within their organizations.

    The Policy provides deputy heads with strategic direction to foster a respectful workplace and address potential situations of harassment.

    The Directive (for the use of functional specialists) describes the minimum requirements for the harassment complaint process in order to ensure the timely and efficient resolution of complaints.

  • How does the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector refer to harassment?

    The Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector states that federal public servants are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with the values of the public sector and includes the following expected behaviours:

    Respect for People

    Public servants shall respect human dignity and the value of every person by:

    • treating every person with respect and fairness;
    • valuing diversity and the benefit of combining the unique qualities and strengths inherent in a diverse workforce;
    • helping to create and maintain safe and healthy workplaces that are free from harassment and discrimination;
    • working together in a spirit of openness, honesty and transparency that encourages engagement, collaboration and respectful communication.
  • In the definition of harassment, the Policy refers to a "series of incidents". What is meant by this? What is meant by “a reasonable person”?

    A “series of incidents” refers to more than one act or episode having occurred that, taken on its own, may not necessarily constitute harassment. It is the repetition that generates the harassment. While harassment is normally a series of incidents, one severe, unrepeated incident that has a lasting impact on an individual may constitute harassment. Whether or not a single incident is considered harassment is determined on a case-by-case basis.

    In cases of harassment, the standard that is used is that of “a reasonable person.” The standard holds that each person has a duty to behave as a reasonable person would under the same or similar circumstances.

  • The renewed policy refers to "designated officials". What is the role of the designated official in the harassment complaint process?

    The Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution requires deputy heads to designate an official or officials for the application of the Policy and the Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process. The Directive requires the establishment and maintenance of an effective harassment complaint process and sets out the specific roles and responsibilities of the designated official(s) pertaining to the application of the Directive.

    In keeping with the intent of the Policy, which gives deputy heads the flexibility to tailor harassment prevention and resolution mechanisms, and practices to meet the needs of their organization, the deputy head may designate more than one official and further define their role as needed. It should be noted that the titles of the designated officials may also vary from organization to organization.

  • What might appear to be harassment, but does not meet the definition?

    An isolated incident of improper conduct, such as an inappropriate remark, an act of “stupidity” or “foolishness,” or a lack of good sense, is not intended to be captured by the term “harassment” as it is used in the Policy. Harassment is a serious term to be applied against an objective standard in circumstances where there is harm with a lasting impact on an individual and it can fairly be said “you should have known better.”

    In cases where a single incident is perceived as harassment, the person who made the remark or exhibited the behaviour may not be aware of the impact of their action, so the individual who feels harassed should try to communicate constructively the impact of the behaviour to that person. This will provide an opportunity for that person to rectify the unwanted behaviour and also serve to make it clear, if the behaviour reoccurs, that it is not acceptable.

    Here are some examples of situations or behaviours that do not typically meet the definition 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 are all circumstances that can create stress and could lead to harassment if not managed properly.
    • A social relationship welcomed by both individuals or friendly gestures among co-workers such as a pat on the back or a shared joke.
  • Can the exercise of management’s authority constitute harassment?

    The legitimate and proper exercise of management’s authority or responsibility does not constitute harassment. Indicators of legitimate management authority are if the decisions are made in the interest of the organization, not in the interest of the manager, and if actions are within what a reasonable person would see as “good management.” This applies in relation to the disciplinary process, the performance review process, giving directions for work, management of absenteeism, etc. However, these actions might constitute harassment if they are carried out in a manner that is offensive, humiliating or embarrassing, or when power and authority are used in a non-professional way, such as through threats, fear, ridicule or intimidation.

  • How are harassment and violence in the workplace linked?

    Harassment is not normally of itself an act of violence, as most behaviours associated with harassment do not represent an imminent danger or cause harm in the form of injury or illness. However, harassment can be a risk factor for workplace violence in the same way that bullying, teasing and abusive and other aggressive behaviours can lead to acts of violence. Since harassment can be a precursor to violence, it is very important that the employer promptly and fully address all allegations of harassment.

    Sexual and physical assaults are defined by the Criminal Code and are dealt with according to that legislation. If you have been assaulted, you should seek assistance immediately by contacting your supervisor or security, and the police.

  • If I feel harassed, what should I do?

    If you believe that you have been harassed, you are encouraged to make it known to the other person as soon as possible and in a respectful manner in an attempt to resolve the problem.

    If the problem is not resolved or you cannot speak directly to the other person, you are encouraged to notify your supervisor or the manager at the next level.

    To help you prepare for a meaningful conversation, you can also seek advice/support from:

    • a departmental Informal Conflict Resolution practitioner;
    • a departmental Human Resources Branch advisor/representative;
    • a union representative;
    • a departmental Harassment Prevention coordinator/advisor;
    • the Employee Assistance Program; and
    • other departmental resource persons (Elder, Ombudsman)

    For more information, please refer to the following documents:

  • Does a harassment complaint have to be in writing?

    Whether communicated verbally or in writing, management should take any necessary steps to address allegations of harassment promptly in order to minimize the impact on the work environment and maintain the health of the workplace. However, as per the Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process, the complaint must be in writing to initiate the formal resolution process.

  • What is meant by restoring the workplace following an allegation of harassment?

    The Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process sets out restoring the well-being of the workplace as one of the five steps in the harassment complaint process. It requires that the work unit manager in consultation with the Informal Conflict Resolution practitioners and other relevant organizational resources address the needs of the parties concerned and the work unit throughout the complaint process, as well as any detrimental impacts resulting from the incidences of harassment.

    A guide entitled Restoring the Workplace Following a Harassment Complaint: A Manager’s Guide can be found on the Treasury Board Secretariat website.

  • Does the complaint process described in the Directive apply to term employees and contractors?

    The harassment complaint process established under the Directive applies to those employed as indeterminate employees, part-time employees, term employees, seasonal employees, casual workers, students and part-time workers.

    For individuals who fall outside of these categories of employees, such as contractors, members of the public (when they are dealing with a government employee), volunteers, or temporary workers hired through agencies, managers must address any allegation of harassment from these individuals in accordance with the spirit of the Directive.

  • Can members of the public file a complaint under the Policy if the complaint is against a public servant?

    No, the Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process, which flows from the Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution, states that the harassment complaint process is available to employees in the core public administration. The term “Employees” for the purpose of the Directive refers to those employed as indeterminate employees, part-time employees, term employees, seasonal employees, casual workers, students and part-time workers.

    For individuals who are not employees, including members of the public, managers must address any allegation of harassment from these individuals in accordance with the spirit of the Policy and Directive.

  • What happens to an allegation of harassment or a harassment complaint process when one of the parties in a harassment situation is no longer an employee?

    The fact that a complainant or respondent leaves the Public Service does not diminish the deputy head’s responsibility to ensure a workplace free of harassment by addressing the allegations of harassment in a timely manner and addressing any negative effects through restoration of the workplace.

  • Can an employee file a harassment complaint against his or her deputy head?

    Deputy heads are not covered by the Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process, which flows from the Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution. Deputy heads are subject to the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector, which states that federal public servants shall respect human dignity and the value of every person by:

    • treating every person with respect and fairness; and
    • helping to create and maintain safe and healthy workplaces that are free from harassment and discrimination.

    The employee should make the situation known to his/her manager or the person responsible for managing the harassment complaint process. The person who receives the complaint must then apply the harassment complaint process as established in the Directive to the extent possible.

  • Can an employee of one department/organization submit an allegation of harassment against an employee employed in another department/organization? If yes, which department receives the written complaint?

    Yes, because the scope of the Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution applies to employees in the core public administration as described in the application section of the Policy and Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process. Preferably, the written complaint should be sent to the person responsible for the harassment complaint process in the department/organization where the alleged incident of harassment occurred. Representatives from the two departments/organizations may need to collaborate to discuss the best approach to deal with the complaint.

  • Can a grievance related to harassment be lodged at the same time as a harassment complaint on the same issue?

    As per the Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process, a complaint of harassment cannot be filed if a grievance has already been filed or been dealt with on the same issue.

    However, an employee may file a grievance following the filing of a complaint of harassment, provided it is within the prescribed time limit in the collective agreement. If an employee chooses to file both a harassment complaint and a grievance, he or she may be requested to choose one process over the other so that both avenues of resolution are not pursued at the same time. With the mutual agreement of the employer, employees may request that the grievance be put in abeyance while pursuing the harassment complaint process.

  • Can a complaint under the Canadian Human Rights Act be lodged at the same time as a harassment complaint on the same issue?

    If an allegation of harassment is based on one of the grounds of discrimination prohibited under the Canadian Human Rights Act, then an employee has the right to file a complaint directly with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. However, if an employee also lodged a harassment complaint within their organization, the Canadian Human Rights Commission will often insist that all avenues be exhausted within that organization before they proceed with the complaint submitted to them.

  • What is the purpose of informal resolution processes? What type of informal resolution processes exist?

    Informal processes, such as dialogue, facilitation or mediation, offer the possibility of resolving in a satisfactory manner, and acceptable to both parties, many work issues related to harassment. Such an approach has the advantage of addressing the parties’ needs, concerns and other interests. It empowers the parties to find solutions that meet their mutual needs and often lead to the re-establishment of respectful working relationships.

  • If a harassment complaint does not meet the definition of harassment and will not be pursued further, does the respondent still have the right to know that an allegation of harassment was made against him/her?

    Yes. Procedural fairness requires that a person be promptly made aware of allegations made against that person, even if the allegations are not substantive enough to be admissible as a harassment complaint for further review. This information would also be accessible to the respondent under the Privacy Act.

  • Can an anonymous complaint (in writing) be accepted?

    In order for a written complaint to be accepted under the Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution and in line with the Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process, the complainant must be identified along with other basic requirements. However, a manager who receives an anonymous complaint still has a responsibility to follow up to the extent possible in order to address the issue raised, resolve any conflicts and ensure a harassment-free workplace.

  • Is the harassment complaint process kept confidential? What information might be disclosed under the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act?

    To protect the integrity of the harassment complaint process and investigation, every effort should be made to keep the process confidential by providing information to individuals on a need-to-know basis only and by compelling witnesses to maintain confidentiality.

    For information on what is subject to disclosure under the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, please consult the Treasury Board Secretariat Web page on Access to Information and Privacy.

  • What happens if an employee alleges harassment against another individual in the workplace for misconduct on social media (e.g. cyber-bullying, character defamation on Facebook; receiving offensive emails on personal accounts, etc.)?

    Employee obligations and expected behaviors as outlined in the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector apply when using email and Web 2.0 tools in the workplace, be it for professional or personal ends. The Code is clear that public sector employees must respect the human dignity and value of every person.

    In order to decide whether an individual’s conduct on social media constitutes a breach of the Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution, one of the criteria is whether the behaviour occurred in the workplace or at any location or any event related to work.

    Each allegation of harassment is managed on a case-by-case basis, and the facts of the case are established to determine when and where the incidents took place.

    It may be necessary for the employee to contact the police if the activity is occurring outside the workplace or at an event not related to work and outside the hours of work.

    In keeping with the intent of the Policy, management should be aware of any consequences spilling over into the workplace, and address and resolve any potential situations of harassment in a timely and efficient manner.

    If an employee has questions about their online activity, they should speak to their manager or a Values and Ethics advisor.

  • An expected result of the Policy includes having "effective incentives for employees and managers to demonstrate a high level of respect for people..." What does this involve?

    “Effective incentives” are tools or mechanisms put in place that can over time lead to improvements in the perceived climate of respect in the workplace. In addition to traditional harassment prevention approaches, such as learning and awareness programs, one example of an “effective incentive” could be introducing regular feedback to each employee on his or her people skills and behaviours in the workplace. This feedback could be linked to his or her overall performance appraisal and personal development plans.

    The new policy instruments require that organizations review the tools and mechanisms that they have in place, and consider how they are influencing the workplace climate and employee perceptions of respect.

  • The Policy states that "those who are involved in managing and resolving harassment complaints must have certain required competencies, including informal conflict resolution skills." What are the required competencies or potential courses recommended in order to satisfy this requirement?

    Under the Policy, deputy heads have the flexibility to determine which “required competencies,” training and specific courses are required to manage the resolution of harassment complaints in their organization. The idea is to ensure that those involved from the outset in helping the parties resolve issues related to harassment have the required competencies to help resolve these situations as quickly as possible, in a fair, constructive and respectful manner.

    In order to achieve this aim, organizational representatives should be able to guide the parties through the steps of the formal resolution process and should also have minimal conflict resolution skills to help the parties express their needs, concerns and other interests that are otherwise not often openly expressed. Active listening skills, listening with empathy and collaborative problem solving skills, which are often taught in mediation courses, are useful in helping the parties move from their position of “who is right and who is wrong” to “what can we do to work together better…”.

  • How will the Treasury Board monitor whether deputy heads are fulfilling their obligations under the Policy and Directive?

    The Treasury Board Secretariat’s Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer has developed an approach with departmental representatives and bargaining agents to measure results with respect to the obligations of each organization in preventing and resolving harassment.

    Organizations are required to develop and implement their own strategy for a respectful workplace, which they will monitor and use to report their progress.

    The Treasury Board Secretariat’s Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer will require organizations to report on their progress via the Management Accountability Framework.

    The Treasury Board Secretariat will also review the Policy and its effectiveness at the five-year mark of implementation.

  • What are the consequences for deputy heads if their departments do not comply with the Policy?

    Consequences of non-compliance with the Policy or failure to take corrective actions requested by the Chief Human Resources Officer may result in Treasury Board taking actions under the Financial Administration Act.

    For a range of consequences of non-compliance, please refer to the Framework for the Management of Compliance.

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