May 2, 2019

Can’t we all just get along? In some cases, the answer is “no.” While workers aren’t expected to be friends with every one of their colleagues, they are expected to cooperate and be civil towards each other. When this doesn’t happen, interpersonal conflicts can degenerate into disruptions that are felt throughout the workplace. At what point does an interpersonal conflict cross the line into harassment? How should employers and unions respond to such behaviour? When would a disciplinary response be appropriate?

In this session, an experienced arbitrator and seasoned counsel will examine the differences between personality conflicts and harassment, addressing issues such as:

  • Personality conflicts vs. harassment: How do adjudicators differentiate between personality conflicts and harassment? Does harassment require intention? Can subtle conduct such as rolling eyes, giving angry looks, or ignoring people amount to harassment? Will an employee’s subjective perceptions factor into this assessment? Does a “tough” workplace culture or “shop floor behaviour” excuse conduct that would otherwise be considered harassment? What role, if any, does a workplace harassment policy play in making this determination? Can such a policy include conduct that would not otherwise be considered harassment?
  • Investigating and responding to complaints: Are employers required to investigate complaints of behaviour arising from a personality conflict in order to fulfill their duty to provide a safe workplace and ensure that the conduct doesn’t constitute harassment? Will a failure to intervene in such disputes violate the obligation under occupational health and safety legislation to protect against workplace harassment? Are there any measures that employers and unions can take to prevent workplace harassment policies from being misused either for trivial disputes or in retaliation against a disagreeable colleague?
  • Considering discipline: Is “personality” a defence to an allegation of harassment? What about a lack of intention to harass? Can a worker be disciplined for having an abrasive personality or for failing to get along with colleagues? Can an employer discipline for “bad attitude” if it results in behaviour that interferes with the normal operation of the workplace? What are some examples of such behaviour?
  • Creating a harmonious workplace: Are there any steps that workplace parties should take when employees do not get along due to personality conflicts? Is it appropriate to advise employees to limit their interactions exclusively to work-related matters? What steps can unions take to protect themselves against duty of fair representation complaints?