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Don’t sweep harassment under the carpet

Addressing the issue will only make it worse

This is a troubling attitude I hear expressed by many of my clients.

Here are just a few concerns raised by participants attending my workshops on workplace harassment and violence prevention:

  • “I don’t want to rock the boat.”
  • “I know I should report it to my supervisor, but it would be career-limiting.”
  • “I manage over 50 people, I can’t respond every time someone feels harassed.”
  • “Oh sure, I speak up but when the time comes nobody else supports me.”


I empathize with my participants. In the real world, there certainly is a risk involved when coming forward with concerns or allegations of abuse, harassment or violent acts happening in the workplace.

There is a naive perception among many workers, including managers, that the easier route is to “sweep it under the carpet”—to pretend the abusive behaviour is not there and hope it will go away. But both occupational health and safety and human rights legislation prohibit reprisals, threats and intimidation against a person for exercising their rights. Employers can face stiff financial penalties for permitting this unacceptable behaviour. For example, in Curling v. Victoria Tea Company, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal awarded a young woman $17,600 after her employer threatened her for filing a human rights complaint.

Just in case you honestly believe it is easier to just “sweep it under the carpet” follow the links below for some eye-opening information on failing to effectively deal with workplace harassment and violence.

Pierre Lebrun

Chronology of attempts to reform the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act

Lori Dupont

Learn don’t litigate

  • Reporting and addressing workplace harassment and violence is now a legal obligation, not a choice
  • Employers must have harassment and violence policies in place
  • Your policies must outline how an employee files a complaint
  • Employees must be trained on the above policies and procedures
  • All employees must be aware that threats, intimidation and reprisal against a worker for exercising their legal rights will not be tolerated

Andrew Lawson
Learn don’t litigate

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Andrew Lawson

Trainer and advisor at Learn Don't Litigate
Andrew Lawson is a human rights and health and safety trainer and advisor, currently consulting to both the federal and Ontario governments. Since 1996, he has conducted extensive legal research in the areas of human rights and occupational health and safety law. He has worked in the people management business for over 25 years. Read more
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One thought on “Don’t sweep harassment under the carpet
  • Adam Gorley says:

    It’s hard to imagine that an employee or a manager would simply ignore harassment or pretend that it isn’t happening, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

    Some are afraid, as you say; some are ignorant; some don’t care; and some probably just think that workers are complainers or something like that.

    I don’t mean to sound cynical. I certainly hope that we can see improved communication between workers and management and more civil interaction among workers themselves. And I think the law is a good place to start.