How has workplace harassment changed due to COVID-19?

A headshot of Ottawa employment lawyer Alex Lucifero next to the logos for Samfiru Tumarkin LLP and Ottawa radio station Newstalk 580 CFRA.

Many workplaces have had to adapt in order to continue business due to the pandemic. While the health and safety of employees have been a primary concern for most Canadians, many are now voicing growing concerns over workplace harassment.

Ottawa employment lawyer Alex Lucifero at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP joins Dahlia Kurtz on CFRA to discuss how harassment in the workplace has changed due to many employees working remotely, and what employees can do in order to enforce their rights.

What They Discussed

  • Has the pandemic been a busy time for employment lawyers? This has been a busy time as the workplace has been fundamentally affected due to COVID-19.
  • If an employee quits due to discomfort at an unsafe workplace, is this considered a constructive dismissal? This could be a constructive dismissal as all employees have a right to feel safe at the workplace and follow health and safety guidelines.
  • What should employees do who are intimidated by their employers and fear retribution for speaking up? Employees in this situation should still try and communicate with their employer; if this leads to a complaint with the Ministry of Labour, the ministry can be a viable resource and helpful.
  • What can employees do when experiencing workplace harassment while working from home as it often harder to document and report? There has been a large portion of individuals that feel the pandemic has exacerbated toxic workplace behaviour as employees feel more vulnerable to losing their positions. It is important to remember laws have not changed due to the pandemic; employees should not feel they have to deal with workplace harassment.
  • Is the pandemic a viable reason to postpone harassment investigations? This is not a reasonable excuse considering the technology that is accessible to interview individuals in the workplace.
  • How can employees properly record workplace harassment if it occurs in hidden environments such as over the phone? Employees and employers should be making notes of when the harassment occurs and should also e-mail an HR representative if possible of the verbal harassment in order to have a written record.

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