Today is #PinkShirtDay2020 – Stop harassment

Harassment has been and continues to be an important issue for members in the workplace. There can be devastating effects both on the mental and physical health of a person experiencing harassment. They often feel confused about what does or does not constitute harassment and what recourses are available to them.

The following is a summary of relevant information that may help clarify your resources if you are experiencing harassment.

If you believe you are being harassed, we recommend that you consult your union representatives for more details or assistance.

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Harassment is a complex issue that takes many different forms such as personal harassment, sexual harassment or harassment based on a prohibited ground under a human rights code (discrimination). Most employers have a harassment policy or policies and some collective agreements also contain protections against harassment.

There are several definitions of harassment but it’s generally defined as:

Any improper conduct by an individual that is directed at and offensive to another individual in the workplace, and which the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offense or harm. It includes any objectionable act, comment or display that demeans, belittles or causes personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat, it includes harassment within the meaning of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA).  

Harassment usually involves a series incidents or behaviors that persist over time. However, depending on its severity, a one-time incident can constitute harassment.



One of the more confusing situations for most people is to know the difference between filing a harassment grievance vs a harassment complaint. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING.

It’s important to note that when filing a grievance on harassment, applicable timelines as outlined in your collective agreements must be followed. We remind you that the information provided
is of a general nature. You should always consult your local union representative or regional vice-president for guidance with filing complaints or grievances.

GRIEVANCE: A formal process which will normally require the union’s participation.

COMPLAINT: Either a formal or an informal process. The union’s participation will not usually be recognized by the employer unless the complainant specifically asks for it.One or the other or both pathways may be used to resolve your problem.

Below are short descriptions as to when you may use which process. Regardless you should always consult your Union to determine which recourse is the best to use in your particular situation.

  • Harassment involving a prohibited ground by the CHRA (discrimination)

You can file a grievance with your employer? in addition to filing a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC). In this case, the complaint to the CHRC will be put in abeyance or on hold pending the outcome of the grievance process (including arbitral/adjudication decision) and can only be reactivated once the grievance process has been completed.

If this scenario applies to you, the Union recommends filing a grievance with the employer as well as a complaint at the CHRC.

  • Personal Harassment

You can file a grievance and/or a complaint, depending on your collective agreement and employer. Some collective agreements do not include provisions on personal harassment, but employers will generally have a harassment policy which would include a recourse process. Usually the employer has more control over a policy-based complaint as they are the ones that set out the parameters and duties they must follow.

It is important to understand that if your collective agreement does not include provisions on personal harassment, such as for members working in Treasury Board departments, your grievance cannot be referred to arbitration/adjudication as this issue will be out of the arbitrator/adjudicator’s area of jurisdiction.

For this reason, the Union recommends filing a grievance rather than a complaint under an employer harassment policy as it gives the Union more control over the process and gives the employee access to corrective measures which are generally not covered under such policies.

  • Violence in the Workplace

Harassment (personal or discrimination) is a form of violence in the workplace. The Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (COHSR) defines it as:

“any action, conduct, threat or gesture of a person towards an employee in their work place that can reasonably be expected to cause harm, injury or illness to that employee.”

You can file a complaint under Part XX of the COHSR if you have been a victim of harassment. The COHSR provides a specific process and duties which the employer must comply with and therefore the employer has less control over this process.

The Union recommends filing a complaint under part XX of the COHSR, however, members should also file a grievance aimed at protecting their right to corrective measures as the Regulations do not include provisions for compensation for victims.


It’s important to understand that members complaining about personal harassment may not be able to use both the complaint and grievance process. Basically, you may not get “two kicks at the can” except for complaints at the CHRC.

We always recommend filing a grievance although reasons for doing so will vary based on the type of complaint you want to file (complaint based on the employer policy, Workplace Violence complaint or complaint based on Human Rights).

It’s important to note that when filing a grievance on harassment, applicable timelines as outlined in your collective agreements must be followed.

We remind you that the information provided is of a general nature. You should always consult your Union local union representative or regional vice-president for guidance with filing complaints or grievances.

Harassment type Grievance Complaint Both
Discriminatory X[1]
Personal X
Violence in the workplace X[2] X


[1] Complaint filed directly with the Canadian Human Rights Commission

[2] Complaint file under the Canada Occupation Health and Safety Regulations

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