Harassment - Questions and Answers

Q1: What is harassment?

Improper conduct by an individual, that is directed at and offensive to another individual in the workplace, including at any event or any location related to work, and that the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm. It comprises objectionable act(s), comment(s) or display(s) that demean, belittle, or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat. It also includes harassment within the meaning of the Canadian Human Rights Act (i.e. based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, pardoned conviction and conviction for which a record suspension has been ordered). Harassment is normally a series of incidents but can be one severe incident which has a lasting impact on the individual. (Based on the Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution, Treasury Board)

Harassment may include the abuse or misuse of authority inherent in the position of an individual. However, if an individual has authority over another individual in a situation by virtue of law, military rank, civilian classification or appointment, the proper exercise of that authority is not harassment. This includes the proper exercise of authority related to the provision of advice, the assignment of work, counselling, performance evaluation, discipline and other supervisory and leadership functions.

Any ceremony or other event, such as an initiation rite that involves participation, as a result of expressed or implied coercion, and that demeans, belittles or causes personal humiliation or embarrassment, is harassment.

Q2: What constitutes harassment?

The following normally constitutes harassment when repeated or on one single severe event:

  • Unwanted sexual advances which may or may not be accompanied by threats or explicit or implicit promises;
  • Making rude, degrading or offensive remarks. Making gestures that seek to intimidate. Engaging in reprisals for having made a complaint under the Harassment Prevention and Resolution Policy. Discrediting the person by spreading malicious gossip or rumours, ridiculing him/her, humiliating him/her, calling into question his/her convictions or his/her private life; and
  • Setting the person up for failure, name calling in private or in front of others. Isolating the person by distancing him or her from others. Destabilizing the person by making fun of his or her beliefs, values, political and/or religious choices, and mocking his or her weak points.

Q3. What does not constitute harassment?

The following does not constitute harassment:

  • Conduct involving the proper exercise of responsibilities or authority related to the provision of advice, the assignment of work, counseling, performance evaluation, discipline and other supervisory/leadership functions. Similarly, the proper exercise of responsibilities or authority related to situations where, by virtue of law, military rank, or appointment, an individual has authority or power over another individual;
  • Normal exercise of the Chain of Commands’ right to manage such as the day-to-day leadership and 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 escalate 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 could lead to harassment incidents;
  • A single or isolated incident such as an inappropriate remark or having an abrupt manner;
  • A social relationship welcomed by both individuals; and
  • Friendly gestures among co-workers such as a pat on the back.

Q4. What is the difference between harassment and conflict?

The CAF recognizes that conflict occurs in the workplace from time-to-time. Harassment and/or workplace conflict can severely damage morale and lead to a negative work environment that affects individual well-being and team effectiveness. To re-establish positive working relationships, this type of situation must be promptly addressed and resolved.

A “disagreement” between people is defined as a situation whereby individuals are not in agreement over a thing – ie a decision, a process, utilization of resources, action plans, etc. However their working relationship is still intact and healthy. A conflict is defined as a situation whereby individuals are not in agreement – but in this case their working relationship has sustained some damage. Conflict in the workplace can range from private verbal disagreements to extreme behaviours including but not limited to yelling and shouting. It can result from personality differences or from a lack of communication skills, including the inability to understand different points of view. When conflict occurs, individuals are dealing with dynamics of mistrust, loss of respect for each other, high levels of emotions, and the effects of possible power imbalances. Thus, not only are they in disagreement over something, but their working relationship is in trouble, or has been damaged. 

Conflict and harassment are not synonymous terms. Workplace conflict and harassment may exist independently, together, or in some situations unmanaged or poorly managed conflict can degenerate into a harassment situation. The exact nature of each situation will depend upon its own facts and circumstances. Harassment and workplace conflict are serious and must be immediately addressed to improve the working environment. A strong effort must be made to identify the early signs of conflict situations that could lead to harassment and ensure members have the necessary knowledge and skills to resolve it. 

CAF members experiencing conflict are encouraged to consider alternative dispute resolution techniques as the first recourse for resolving the situation. The Conflict Resolution Program is the means by which the Defence Team are provided with the resources to resolve workplace conflicts early and informally using the techniques of alternative dispute resolution. For information about the Conflict Resolution Program and how to access its services, please visit: Conflict Resolution Program web page.

Q5. How is harassment dealt with the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces (DND/CAF)?

The CAF does not tolerate harassment. Harassment is dealt with under the Harassment Prevention and Resolution Defence Administrative Order and Directive (DAOD) 5012-0 and the Harassment Prevention and Resolution Guidelines (available only on the Defence intranet site). These are comprehensive documents that emphasize harassment prevention and early resolution measures, specifying the rights and responsibilities of all parties. The policy, in place since 2000, applies to both DND employees and CAF members and addresses all forms of harassment. Further, the Defence Ethics Programme outlines the ethical guidelines pertaining to respect, fairness, obligations for the welfare of others and accountability, that are necessary to mitigate harassment issues.

Q6. What is the prevalence of harassment within the CAF and the Department of National Defence?

A recently concluded CAF harassment survey report (The 2012 Canadian Forces Workplace Harassment Survey) indicates that 72 per cent of Regular Force respondents reported they did not experience any form of harassment in the 12 months prior to the survey.

The survey report also indicates that: 

  • More than 98 per cent of CAF members are aware that there is a CAF harassment policy;
  • 79 per cent recall having participated in CAF harassment awareness training;
  • 77 per cent believe complaints about harassment would be taken seriously in their unit;
  • 17 per cent responded that they had experienced abuse of authority;
  • 16 per cent responded that they had experienced personal harassment;
  • 1.5 per cent responded that they had experienced sexual harassment;
  • 1 per cent responded that they had experienced hazing; and
  • 17 per cent of CAF members reported that they would not feel free to report harassment without fear of reprisals.

The Reserve Force and the CAF training population will be surveyed separately in 2014 to inform policy development and to support further understanding of CAF culture.

With respect to civilian employees within DND, there are no separate surveys directed exclusively at civilian employees within DND. Harassment statistics reflected in the 2011 Canadian Public Service Employee Survey found that 29 per cent of public service employees indicated having been a victim of harassment on the job in the past two years. When asked to indicate the source of harassment, 67 per cent of public service employees who had experienced harassment on the job in the past two years cited individuals with authority over them, and 63 per cent, co-workers (source: Treasury Board Secretariat).  

Q7. What is the purpose of the Harassment Prevention and Resolution Policy?

The cornerstone of the policy is the prevention of harassment in the workplace thus producing highly performing teams and ensuring the operational effectiveness of a unit.

In cases where prevention has not worked, the policy emphasizes that each allegation be resolved at the lowest most appropriate possible level. Prevention and the early resolution approach ensures the unit is returned to its full operational effectiveness as soon as feasible.

Q8. What should I do if I feel harassed?

If you feel harassed, take action using mechanisms that are in place to help you deal with the situation. You should report the incident to your immediate supervisor or Commanding Officer. If your unit has a Workplace Relations Advisor you may contact them for help with the interpretation of the policy and on how to proceed. If you wish to pursue your options for resolving the conflict through alternative dispute resolution, you may contact your nearest DND/CAF Dispute Resolution Centre.

If you are planning on submitting a complaint, the complaint should be submitted to the immediate supervisor or Commanding Officer. In cases where the immediate supervisor or Commanding Officer is the respondent, the complaint should be submitted to the next superior in the chain of command. Alternatively, the complaint may be submitted to the unit Harassment Advisor. The complaint should convey a complainant’s specific concerns regarding an alleged harassment situation.  For more information on the Harassment Prevention and Resolution Policy and Guidelines, please consult the following link (available only on the Defence intranet site): http://hr.forces.mil.ca/harassment/engraph/home_e.asp.

If you don’t want to submit a formal complaint after you’ve reported it and/or want to resolve it at the lowest and most appropriate level, through the use of alternative dispute resolution techniques such as addressing a situation directly (self-help), supervisor intervention or though a mediation process, you can do so as these methods often provide for quicker and more satisfying resolution than proceeding to a formal complaint. Also keep in mind that in the case where alternative dispute resolution has not worked or is not possible, you may still submit a formal complaint.

If you are still hesitating in addressing a situation in which you feel harassed, remember that in order for the CAF to ensure the issue is addressed someone must report it or do something about it. If the situation is not addressed, it will likely get worst and may result in a poisoned work environment that could potentially affect everyone.

Q9. What should I do if I am accused of harassment?

If someone informs you that your conduct is harassing and offensive, be receptive. As difficult as it is to remain receptive, keep in mind that you are being given an opportunity to clarify the situation with that person. Thank the person for sharing this information with you and find out what, in the offended party's view, is offensive and attempt to resolve the situation with that person.

If you and the offended person are unable to resolve the issue on your own, inform your Chain of Command and/or seek advice from departmental resource persons such as a Workplace Relations Advisor or Informal Conflict Resolution practitioner. You should also consider engaging in informal resolution processes to resolve the matter and review the DND/CAF Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution.

If you are named as respondent in a harassment complaint, it is advisable that you be accompanied and supported by someone during the process. That person may be someone assigned by your unit, or he/she may be the Workplace Relations Advisor or a friend, or co-worker. That person is not allowed to speak on your behalf. The role of that person is to provide you with advice and guidance with the process.

Q10. What are my rights as a Complainant?

The complainant has the right:

  • to be treated fairly;
  • to submit a complaint and have it reviewed in a prompt, sensitive and impartial manner, without fear of embarrassment or reprisal;
  • to be assisted by an assistant as defined in the policy;
  • that a written complaint is not placed on their departmental personnel file;
  • to obtain information about the review of their complaint, subject to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act; and
  • to be informed of any corrective, administrative and disciplinary measures implemented as a result of a founded complaint, subject to the provisions of the Privacy Act.

Q11. What are my rights as a Respondent?

The respondent has the right:

  • to be treated fairly;
  • to be notified promptly that a complaint has been filed against them;
  • to be informed of the allegations. In the case of a written complaint, the details of it will be provided in writing;
  • to respond to the allegations;
  • to be assisted by an assistant as defined in the policy;
  • that documentation related to the complaint is not placed on their departmental personnel file, if the complaint is not founded; and
  • to obtain information related to the review of the complaint, subject to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.

Q12. Once an investigation has been completed, how will the CAF ensure my harasser is reprimanded?

When a CAF member is found to have committed harassment, it is the responsibility of the Responsible Officer, to decide what administrative, restorative and/or disciplinary action is to be taken. Administrative action can vary from a formal written recorded warning, mandatory counselling and training, to removal from the immediate work place and may even include release.

Q13. What should I do if I witness harassment against one of my colleagues?

Don’t be a bystander. In addition to treating everyone respectfully, you have a responsibility to create a respectful work environment and you have a moral obligation to others in the workplace to take action and ensure that incidences of harassment are dealt with in accordance with DND/CAF policy. If you witness harassment, approach your supervisor, manager or Responsible Officer. They are responsible for stopping improper behavior.

Q14. If I have suffered from harassment, where can I find support?

If you are a CAF member who has suffered from harassment, in some organizations, Workplace Relations Advisors are available and are there to assist with the policy interpretation. Regional Conflict Resolution Centres are also available to assist members with conflict and/or harassment concerns. You also have access to the Canadian Forces Members Assistance Program, medical staff, padres, the Ombudsman and your chain of command.

Q15. What training is available regarding harassment?

All CAF members receive harassment prevention and resolution training. All new recruits receive instructions and lessons on harassment prevention and units conduct annual unit briefs. Other courses are available through the Learning and Career Centres.

Q16. As a leader, supervisor or manager, what resources are available to me to prevent harassment in my section, and restore the workplace after an incident of harassment has taken place?

As a leader, supervisor or manager, you have a greater responsibility for creating and maintaining a positive, harassment-free workplace, of acting in accordance with the prevention and resolution policy when matters arise, and must encourage your employees and members to resolve matters without fear of reprisal.

A complaint of harassment may damage relationships in the workplace. Whether the complaint was founded or not, the employees and CAF members involved may feel hurt or uncomfortable around each other and other employees both during and after a formal harassment complaint has been submitted. The employees involved will most likely still have to work together. Those who work alongside them will also have opinions about what happened. Consulting the unit Harassment Advisor is recommended as they may provide assistance.

Some information of how to help restore the workplace is also available from the Government of Canada Restoration of the Workplace Guide.  

In addition to the Harassment Prevention and Resolution Policy, you can also familiarize yourself with the Defence Ethics Programme.

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