When is it Personality Conflicts and When is it Harassment?

A couple of years ago, the Ontario Labour Relations dismissed a complaint under their Occupational Health and Safety Act because the employee’s allegations – which included “gossip” – did not rise to the level of “harassment” as defined in the OHSA.
The male teacher, who taught in the science department at a high school, alleged that two female teachers in the same department had harassed him.
He had previously tried to resolve things with the teachers on his own but when this failed he took matters to the school Principal. The Principal, according to the male teacher, was ineffective at dealing with the problem to his satisfaction. In fact, he then alleged that he was ‘reprised’ against with respect to scheduling and course selections.
There were other aspects to the case. According to the Labour Relations Board ruling, the male relied upon the following behaviours by the female teachers. He found them ‘objectionable’ and therefore (according to him) amounted to harassment:

  • Teaching methods and style, alleged tardiness and alleged lack of attention to matters of student health and safety during lab work
  • Allegedly spread gossip about another teacher (not himself)
  •  Declined his suggestion to meet to discuss departmental issues
  • Confronted him on one occasion about his criticisms of W.R. as a teacher
  • Shouted at him once to turn off the lights during the course of a meeting

Workplace Harassment Defined by OSHA

“engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.” 

The Labour Relations Board ultimately ruled that:
At best, one might conclude that there was a personality conflict between (the male teacher) and (the female teacher).  That kind of problem can and should be resolvable as between adult professionals.  In the circumstances of this case it is quite simply not workplace harassment.
Click to read the entire ruling if you like
Thank goodness for that!
The LRB is actually determining that fully trained adults have an obligation to resolve these things internally without resorting to lengthy issues being dragged through legal hearings.
Hopefully, between the employees involved themselves…albeit within what is generally termed to be a Difficult Conversation.
Even the most confident people find confrontation with other people a difficult thing to do. However, experience has taught us that the earlier the conversation takes place regarding the unacceptable behaviour, the easier it is to prevent the repetition of disrespectful behaviour and to clear up what could simply be misunderstandings (like in the science department at a High School, in Ontario).

Tips for having that Difficult Conversation

  • First of all, thank the other person for agreeing to discuss the situation
  • Speak calmly
  • Explain in detail what the other person has done that offended  you and provide specific examples of the behaviour
  • Stay focused on how the issue is impacting you in the workplace
  • State your commitment to being part of the resolution
  • If the other person apologizes, accept the apology and thank them
  • State your suggestion for how to resolve the situation
  • Confirm the agreed-upon resolution and clarify what each of you will do to implement the resolution
  • Finally, make certain that you thank the other person for their willingness to work on the change

What to do if the conversation is about YOU

  • Have the conversation
  • Act respectfully
  • Clarify critical information if you do not understand something
  • Do not argue thoughts, feelings and perceptions
  • Respect reasonable requests
  • Give the other person credit for having this conversation – this is not easy

Go ahead…give it a try the next time you want to run off to the Labour Relations Board.
You might be surprised!