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THE QUESTION

The owner of the business where I work is harassing me. Problem is, his wife is the director of human resources. What should I do?

THE FIRST ANSWER

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Julie Labrie

President, Blue Sky Personnel, Toronto

First, document the harassment. Keep a fact-based journal to record the date, time and details of incidents and witnesses who may have been present. Also keep copies of any harassing work e-mails – to back up your claim.

Next, empower yourself with information. Know your company's harassment policy and research your province's labour laws to understand how you're protected. Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act, for example, requires employers to investigate workplace harassment complaints.

Companies must have a procedure for employees to report harassment to a designated person other than the employer – if the employer is the alleged harasser. This person need not be in human resources. It could be the company's designated health and safety representative, a member of a business association or even a consultant. Report the harassment to this person designated by your company.

Also consider pro-actively consulting with a lawyer who specializes in this area to fully understand your legal options.

Lastly, if you are not feeling excited and inspired to go to work every day, it may be time to start looking for another job. After all, when it comes to your career, your first loyalty is to yourself.

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THE SECOND ANSWER

Kamini Dowe

Associate, Borden Ladner Gervais, Calgary office

Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Often, even the best workplace policies cannot anticipate the strange intricacies of how relationships may play out at work.

Legally, occupational health and safety legislation in Canada puts a general obligation on employers to ensure the health and safety of its employees. In many provinces, the legislation requires employers to take active steps to address workplace violence and, in certain jurisdictions, this includes bullying and harassment. You may also be entitled to additional protection under human-rights legislation if the harassment stems from a protected ground (i.e., gender, race, disability, etc.). This is because employers are required to provide a workplace that is free from discrimination.

Many workplaces have specific policies in place to address the issue of workplace harassment. The tricky situation in your case is how to bring your complaint forward in an effective way. If you do not feel comfortable bringing your complaint directly to the human resources director, consider taking it to another member of your human-resources department or a senior manager.

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Remember, your employer cannot take steps to address your concerns if it doesn't first know about them. In the meantime, keep a written record of your interactions with the owner, including dates, witnesses and a description of the harassing behaviour.

If your employer ignores your complaint, doesn't investigate it properly or retaliates against you in any way, there are legal options you may be able to pursue, including a potential claim for constructive dismissal or a human-rights complaint.

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