Laughter at the Workplace: Good Fun or Harassment?

 In Employment Law

Over the past year, I have been an Executive on the Board for the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) –  Brockville Chapter. It has been a great experience, and the folks on this Board are truly passionate and committed human resources professionals. On May 8, 2013, I attended the Annual Business Meeting for the Chapter. We had a great speaker for the event: Paul Huschilt, a professional speaker and storyteller. He spoke (and sang and danced) about the “Seven Humor Habits for Workplace Wellness”. I greatly enjoyed his presentation and message: laughter in the workplace is a good thing and that it is a great stress reducer.

Laughter is a perfect medicine to reduce stress. At the same time, sometimes jokes are offensive. The line between a funny joke and an offensive one is not always apparent. In 2010, the Occupational Health and Safety Act was amended to impose greater obligations on employers to take positive steps to prevent harassment and violence in the workplace. For example, employers are legally obligated to maintain and implement a workplace harassment policy that includes: (a) measure and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment to a supervisor; and (b) details as to how the employer will investigate and deal with a complaint of harassment. Employees should be encouraged, without any fear of reprisal, to raise concerns when humor in the workplace crosses a line and becomes offensive and employers have to take those concerns seriously. More information is available on the Ontario Ministry of Labour website.

Colleen Hoey is an Ottawa-based lawyer practicing in the areas of Employment Law, Human Rights Law, and Civil Litigation at Mann & Partners, LLP. The articles on this blog are not intended to provide legal advice. Should you require legal advice, please contact Mann & Partners, LLP at 613-722-1500.

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