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  • Writer's pictureAudrey Anne Blanchet

Incivility vs Harassment: What's the Difference?

In a work context, it can be difficult to assess the difference between a situation of harassment and a situation of incivility. That's perfectly normal! It is therefore necessary to clearly outline the criteria that define incivility and harassment.


Incivility is a behavior or attitude, conscious or not, that deviates from the code of conduct established by a group. This can create significant discomfort in the work environment and can have a negative impact on the morale of individuals, effectiveness, productivity, motivation, and the overall work climate.

These deviations from the code of conduct can be manifested through actions taken or through inaction. Generally, inaction is manifested by the exclusion of a person. Although these behaviors may seem mundane or trivial, they can nonetheless embrace, hurt, and significantly affect the targeted individual.

For example,

  • Talking behind a colleague's back

  • Staring at someone

  • Reprimanding a person in front of a group

  • Checking your phone when someone is speaking to us

  • Intentionally withholding information about a project or for a meeting

  • Interrupting or imposing oneself in a conversation

Workplace Harassment

Unlike incivility, workplace harassment is clearly defined in the Labor Standards Act.

Harassment is vexatious conduct manifested through behaviors, words, acts, or gestures that are either repeated

  • Hostile (aggressive, threatening) or unwanted;

  • Likely to offend or humiliate the employee;

  • Could threaten or intimidate the employee;

  • Infringe upon the dignity or psychological or physical integrity of the employee;

  • Result in a harmful work environment for the employee.

A Common Point : Hostile and Unwanted Nature

Harassment and incivility thus share the hostile and unwanted nature of a gesture, behavior, or word. To qualify a gesture, word, or behavior as harassment, it must reach a certain threshold of severity. This can be detected by the repeated nature of the behavior, the harmful effect on working conditions, and the impact on the physical or psychological integrity of the individual.

The Role of the Workplace Harassment Investigator

To protect workers, the Labor Standards Commission has established a specific process for handling complaints of psychological harassment.

In the case of a complaint of workplace harassment, an investigator may be designated to support the complaint handling process. As defined by the Commission, their role consists of

  • To determine if the facts on file are relevant and sufficient to justify the Commission representing the employee before the court;

  • Detect opportunities for an agreement between the employer and the employee for a settlement respecting their interests;

  • Promote the prevention of psychological harassment throughout the fulfillment of their mandate."



  • Workplace Psychological Harassment Investigation. Rules and Ethics. Labor Standards Commission

  • Labor Standards Act

  • Workplace Harassment, CNESST

  • Workplace Psychological Harassment, Éduca

  • Workplace Incivility: Gateway to Other Violence, HR Crossroad


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