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Type: psychological

Moral harassment

What is moral harassment?
How to recognize moral harassment?
What are the consequences of moral harassment at work?
What are the legal consequences of moral harassment?

What is moral harassment?

Many researchers are now trying to define and understand psychological or moral harassment at work. Among these, we have retained a definition from a renowned expert in the field, French psychiatrist Marie-France Hirigoyen, here freely translated:

"If a person or a group of individuals treats you in a manner that is hostile, whether through actions, words or in writing, and if those actions affect your dignity, your physical or psychological well-being, as well as causing a deterioration in your workplace or even jeopardizing your employment, you are the victim of psychological harassment."

How to recognize moral harassment?

According to German psychologist Dr. Heinz Leymann, the following are some of the effects and behaviours of moral harassment (for which he uses the term "mobbing"):

  1. Effects on the victim's possibilities to communicate (management gives you no possibility to communicate, you are silenced, verbal attack against you regarding work assignments, verbal threats, verbal activities in order to reject you, etc.)
  2. Effects on the victim's possibilities to maintain social contacts (colleagues do not talk with you any longer or you are even forbidden by management to talk to them, you are isolated in a room far away from others, you are "sent to Coventry", etc.)
  3. Effects on the victim's possibilities to maintain his personal reputation (gossiping about you, others ridicule you, others make fun about a handicap or your ethnic heritage, or your way of moving or talking, etc.)
  4. Effects on the victim's occupational situation (you are not given any work assignment at all, you are given meaningless work assignments, etc.)
  5. Effects on the victim's physical health (you are given dangerous work assignments, others threaten you physically or you are attacked physically, you are sexually harassed in an active way, etc.)

Warning! There is no difference between “mobbing” and “bullying”, between moral harassment and psychological harassment. These terms are used to define the same phenomenon and depend on the country in which they originate from.

What are the consequences of moral harassment at work?

Moral harassment can lead to an untimely end to a career. The following example shows how such a course of events can lead to an abrupt, premature departure:

  1. Emotional instability: anguish, discouragement, frustration, feelings of helplessness, a loss of self-esteem, of ambition, of motivation.
  2. Physical health problems: tiredness, headaches, lack of sleep, intestinal and other physical discomforts.
  3. Mental health problems: depression, professional burn-out, suicidal thoughts.
  4. Loss of credibility: reputation destroyed, victim’s professionalism questioned.
  5. Job loss: disability leave, resignation or dismissal.
  6. Incapacity to go back to regular work: abandoning the job market.

No one enjoys being a witness to exclusion, unfairness or injustice especially when it concerns a co-worker. In the presence of moral harassment, employees become involuntary witnesses. They may feel uneasy, insecure and powerless. Their own work environment changes, their interpersonal relationships may suffer, they may not feel as motivated about going to the office or the factory. This lack of motivation often degenerates into a loss of performance, sometimes leading up to resignations or dismissals.

Moral harassment can have negative repercussions on the organization’s performance, reputation and revenue. The following are examples put in alphabetical order:

Damage to corporate culture
Damage to corporate image
Decrease in productivity
Decrease in quality
Disciplinary measures
Increase in insurance premiums
Lack of motivation
Loss of competitiveness
Loss of personnel: resignations, dismissals
Work environment deterioration

What are the legal consequences of moral harassment?

Moral harassment at work is an infringement and denial of a person's right to dignity and security, including physical and psychological integrity, as guaranteed by Canadian and provincial laws and their codes or charters of rights and freedoms.

A conviction according to the Law or under the Criminal Code can affect a person’s right to practice a trade or profession.

Unlike France and Belgium where it is prohibited by Law, Canada has not yet adopted precise legislation in regards to workplace violence. The Lise Chagnon Forget case, where the plaintive's mental health was proven to be in danger, won an appeal in front of Québec' s professional injuries appeal board, the CLP (Commission des lésions professionnelles du Québec). Her unfortunate experience shows that judicial appeals often become time-consuming and costly, and will probably be denied in the first instance. Things are looking up however in Québec, since there is an increasing percentage of appeals ruled in favour by this board (now 30 %).


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