The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) writes policies to help people understand what types of discrimination are. In addition, these policies outline how to prevent and respond to different forms of discrimination. According to the OHRC’s Policy on Ableism and Discrimination based on disability, discrimination includes creating a poisoned environment. Organizations must maintain an environment that prevents ongoing incidents of harassment, and respond to any incidents that do occur.
A poisoned environment happens when harassment becomes constant or overwhelming. When people often harass someone at work, that person’s working conditions change. In this way, a poisoned environment at work is similar to other employment abuses, such as physically unsafe working conditions. In addition, a poisoned environment can also exist in housing or other services.
On one hand, repeated harassment over time can create a poisoned environment. For example, ongoing posts on a neighbourhood’s social media, showing cartoons with disability stereotypes, could poison the housing environment. If an employer or landlord does not recognize and stop harassment, harassers may feel allowed to continue their behaviour. If employers or landlords fail to take steps that stop harassment, these instances could poison the environment.
On the other hand, one incident of harassment can be so profound that it poisons the environment. For example, if one coworker discloses a colleague’s disability without permission, that colleague could experience discrimination later from other coworkers who believe stereotypes or stigma about the worker’s disability.
Who can Create a poisoned environment?
Furthermore, while people in authority, such as managers or landlords, can poison an environment, any colleague, service provider, or neighbour can also do so. Nonetheless, managers and landlords have a duty to prevent poisoned environments, and to support any person who has experienced a poisoned environment.
The OHRC expects people to be aware that certain comments or actions could poison the environment. Even if an employer or a landlord does not know that their environment has been poisoned, they should know. In other words, people in charge of workplaces or housing have the responsibility to know when harassment or discrimination has poisoned their environment. They also have a duty to respond when their environment has been poisoned. If they do not do so, they are discriminating against the worker or tenant who experiences the poisoned environment.
Therefore, employers, landlords, and service providers must work actively to create a positive environment that does not encourage harassment or discrimination. A positive workplace culture or living situation supports all colleagues and neighbours to treat each other with respect.