Workplace Gaslighting and Employment Law in Alberta

By: Bow River Law

Published: 12 June 2024

Uncover the insidious tactics of workplace gaslighting and explore the legal parameters available under Alberta employment law.

In recent years, workplace gaslighting has gained significant attention as a form of psychological abuse that can have devastating effects on employees’ well-being. Alberta, like many other jurisdictions, recognizes the importance of addressing this issue within the framework of employment law. In this article, we will explore what gaslighting entails, how it intersects with employment law in Alberta, and what steps can be taken to prevent and address gaslighting in the workplace.

This guide is primarily directed at non-lawyers, and is intended for legal information purposes only.  It should not be considered legal advice.  The law is complicated.  Anyone with a legal issue should consult with a lawyer directly.  Lawyers looking for guidance should consult other research and information sources, like for example our employment law blog.

What is Gaslighting?

Gaslighting refers to a manipulative tactic that involves making someone question their perception of reality or their sanity. Gaslighting generally involves dishonesty.  It is a form of psychological abuse that can occur in various settings, including the workplace. Gaslighting tactics typically involve undermining a person’s confidence and causing them to doubt their own judgments, memories, and perceptions.

Gaslighting in the workplace can take many forms. It may include persistent denial of an employee’s experiences or achievements, manipulating their emotions, or spreading false information about them to undermine their credibility.

Furthermore, gaslighting can create a toxic work environment where the victim feels isolated and powerless. This can lead to decreased productivity, increased stress levels, and even physical health issues. Gaslighting behavior in the workplace is often subtle and insidious, making it challenging for victims to identify and address.

Additionally, gaslighting can have long-lasting effects on an individual’s mental well-being. Victims may experience self-doubt, anxiety, and depression as a result of being gaslighted. It is crucial for organizations to have clear policies in place to address gaslighting behavior and provide support for employees who may be experiencing it.

Gaslighting in alberta workplace.

Understanding Gaslighting in the Workplace

Gaslighting in the workplace can have severe consequences for the targeted employee. It can lead to increased stress, anxiety, depression, and a decline in overall mental health. The effects of gaslighting can spill over into an employee’s personal life, affecting relationships and quality of life.

Moreover, gaslighting can also negatively impact team dynamics, productivity, and overall work culture. Employees who experience gaslighting may become less engaged, less trusting, and less willing to contribute to their fullest potential. This can ultimately harm the organization’s performance and reputation.

Gaslighting behavior often involves manipulation and deceit, where the perpetrator aims to make the victim doubt their own perceptions and reality. This can create a toxic work environment where the victim feels isolated and powerless. The gaslighter may use tactics such as denial, misdirection, and blame-shifting to maintain control and undermine the victim’s confidence.

Furthermore, gaslighting can erode trust not only between individuals but also within teams. When employees witness gaslighting behavior, it can breed a culture of fear and uncertainty, leading to decreased collaboration and communication. This breakdown in trust can have far-reaching consequences, impacting not just the targeted individual but the entire organizational structure.

Gaslighting and Constructive Dismissal

Gaslighting can also be linked to constructive dismissal in Alberta, which occurs when an employer creates a hostile work environment or unilaterally alters essential terms of employment, making continued work untenable for the employee.

In cases where gaslighting contributes to a toxic work environment, affected employees may argue that their employer’s actions constitute constructive dismissal. Alberta’s employment laws recognize that employees have a right to work in a respectful and safe environment, and employers have a duty of care towards their employees.

Constructive dismissal can manifest in various forms, such as demotions, paycuts, excessive increases in workload, discrimination, harassment, unfair performance appraisals or a breach of trust by the employer. Gaslighting could fit into several of these different constructive dismissal scenarios in different cases.  It is essential for employees to document instances of gaslighting and other abusive behaviors in the workplace to support their claims of constructive dismissal.

Moreover, seeking legal advice from employment lawyers can help employees understand their rights and options in cases of constructive dismissal due to gaslighting. These professionals can provide guidance on how to navigate the complex legal processes involved in filing a claim against an employer for constructive dismissal.

Gaslighting at work by employer.

Gaslighting and Workplace Harassment

Gaslighting is a particular form of workplace harassment that can have devastating effects on an employee’s well-being. Workplace harassment involves any unwelcome behavior, comment, or action that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.

If an employee is subjected to gaslighting tactics as part of a broader pattern of workplace harassment, they may be able to seek recourse under workplace harassment policies, Alberta’s human rights processes, or in Court.

Gaslighting in the workplace often involves the perpetrator dishonestly manipulating the victim’s perception of reality, making them doubt their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This can lead to feelings of confusion, self-doubt, and isolation for the victim, as they struggle to make sense of the situation.

Furthermore, gaslighting can have serious implications for the victim’s mental health, causing anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. The constant manipulation and invalidation of their experiences can erode their self-esteem and confidence, making it difficult for them to perform their job effectively and maintain healthy relationships with colleagues.

Impact of Gaslighting on Employees’ Mental Health

The impact of gaslighting on employees’ mental health should not be underestimated. Studies have shown that gaslighting can lead to increased levels of anxiety, depression, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Furthermore, the effects of gaslighting can extend beyond the workplace and into other areas of an individual’s life, such as their relationships with friends and family. The constant undermining and invalidation of one’s feelings and experiences can erode trust and create lasting emotional scars that may require therapy to heal.

Employer Responsibilities in Preventing Gaslighting

Employers have a legal and ethical responsibility to prevent gaslighting in the workplace. They should take proactive steps to create a positive work environment that fosters respect, open communication, and empathy.

Gaslighting, a form of psychological manipulation that causes the victim to doubt their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, can have devastating effects on employees’ mental health and well-being. Recognizing the importance of addressing this toxic behavior, employers must prioritize the implementation of comprehensive strategies to combat gaslighting in the workplace.

Some key responsibilities for employers include:

  1. Implementing clear anti-gaslighting policies and procedures that are communicated to all employees, or condemning gaslighting as part of a harassment policy, respectful workplace policy or code of conduct.
  2. Providing training for managers and employees to recognize and address gaslighting behavior.
  3. Establishing effective channels for reporting gaslighting incidents and ensuring that complaints are treated confidentially and taken seriously.
  4. Conducting regular workplace assessments and surveys to identify potential issues and areas for improvement.
  5. Taking gaslighting complaints seriously and investigating them.
  6. Disciplining employees who engage in gaslighting behavior, or where the intent of dishonest behavior is not clear, disciplining employees for dishonesty itself.

Furthermore, fostering a culture of transparency and accountability within the organization is crucial in preventing gaslighting. By promoting open dialogue and encouraging employees to speak up against any form of manipulation or gaslighting tactics, employers can create a safe and supportive environment where individuals feel empowered to address such behaviors.

Employers should also consider providing resources and support for employees who have been victims of gaslighting, including access to counseling services and conflict resolution mechanisms. By prioritizing the well-being of their workforce and actively working towards eradicating gaslighting behaviors, employers can cultivate a workplace that values integrity, trust, and mutual respect.

Impact of gaslighting alberta workplace.

Gaslighting and Human Rights Violations

Gaslighting can also intersect with human rights violations, particularly when it targets individuals based on their protected characteristics, such as race, gender, age, sexual orientation, pregnancy, or disability.

Employers have a duty to provide equal opportunities and protect employees from discrimination and harassment. In cases where gaslighting is motivated by discriminatory attitudes or has a disproportionate impact on certain groups, it may constitute a violation of human rights legislation.

Common Gaslighting Tactics

Gaslighting tactics can take many forms, some of which may be subtle and difficult to recognize. However, awareness of gaslighting tactics is crucial to identify and address gaslighting behavior in the workplace. Some common gaslighting tactics include:

  • Undermining an employee’s abilities or achievements by constantly and unfairly criticizing their work or belittling their contributions.
  • Denying an employee’s experiences or emotions, making them question their own perceptions.
  • Isolating an employee from their colleagues or support networks, creating a sense of dependence.
  • Spreading rumors or false information about an employee to tarnish their reputation.

Addressing Gaslighting in the Workplace

Addressing gaslighting in the workplace requires a multi-faceted approach that involves both employers and employees. By working together, organizations can create a culture of psychological safety and promote healthy work relationships.

Employee Rights and Recourse

Employees who experience gaslighting have rights and avenues for recourse. It is essential for employees to familiarize themselves with these rights and understand how to advocate for themselves in situations involving gaslighting.

Some of the rights and recourses available to employees include:

  • Keeping a record of incidents, including dates, times, and details, to provide evidence if needed.
  • Documenting the impact of gaslighting on their well-being, such as changes in mental health or job performance.
  • Seeking support from trusted colleagues, mentors, or individuals within the organization who can provide guidance and advice.
  • Reporting gaslighting incidents to HR or management, following the procedures outlined in the organization’s anti-gaslighting policies.
  • Consulting with legal professionals specializing in employment law to understand their rights and explore available legal options.
  • If the gaslighting has resulted in a psychological injury, filing a claim with WCB.

Preventing Gaslighting in the Workplace

Prevention is key when it comes to gaslighting in the workplace. By taking proactive measures, employers can create a work environment that is resilient against abusive behavior and supports the well-being of all employees.

Here are some top tips for preventing gaslighting:

  1. Educate employees: Provide training and resources to help employees recognize and address gaslighting behavior.
  2. Foster open communication: Create a culture where employees feel comfortable speaking up about concerns and issues.
  3. Encourage respectful feedback: Promote an environment where meaningful feedback is encouraged and appreciated, fostering growth and development.
  4. Lead by example: Ensure that leaders and managers demonstrate respectful behavior and hold themselves accountable for their actions.
  5. Establish support systems: Provide avenues for employees to access counseling services or support networks.
Inclusion healthy work environment in Alberta.

Promoting a Healthy Work Culture

Building a healthy work culture is crucial for preventing gaslighting and fostering a positive and inclusive environment. Organizations can promote a healthy work culture by:

  • Promoting work-life balance and recognizing the importance of employees’ well-being.
  • Celebrating diversity and creating an inclusive workplace where employees feel valued and respected.
  • Encouraging teamwork and collaboration, fostering a sense of belonging and camaraderie.

Addressing Gaslighting Through HR Policies and Training

HR policies and training play a crucial role in addressing gaslighting. Organizations should develop comprehensive policies that clearly define gaslighting and provide guidelines for reporting and addressing incidents.

Training programs should be regularly conducted to educate employees about gaslighting, its impact, and the appropriate actions to take if they witness or experience gaslighting behavior.

Legal Protections Against Workplace Gaslighting in Alberta

In Alberta, employees have legal protections against workplace gaslighting under both provincial and federal legislation. Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to provide a safe and healthy work environment, which includes protecting employees from psychological hazards such as gaslighting.

Furthermore, the Alberta Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination and harassment based on protected grounds, including race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, pregnancy, and disability.

In Summary: Gaslighting in the Workplace

Gaslighting in the workplace is a serious issue that can have severe consequences for employees’ mental health and well-being. In Alberta, employers have legal responsibilities to prevent gaslighting and foster a healthy work environment.

By recognizing the signs of gaslighting, educating employees, and implementing strong HR policies and training programs, organizations in Alberta can take concrete steps towards stamping out gaslighting and creating a supportive workplace where everyone can thrive.

If you or someone you know has experienced gaslighting in the workplace, don’t hesitate to seek legal counsel. Our team of experienced employment lawyers is here to protect your rights and guide you through the process. Contact our Calgary law team today for a confidential consultation.

Healthy communication helps business succeed.

Health Resources For Employees Experiencing Gaslighting

In addition to the steps outlined here that employees can take to protect their legal rights, employees who are being subjected to gaslighting at work should ensure they are taking care of their mental health as a priority.  Some employers offer mental health supports as part of medical benefits, specialized mental health benefits, short term disability or long term disability benefits.

Any time an employee has experienced an injury at work – whether physical or psychological – they should consider filing a claim with the Worker’s Compensation Board of Alberta.  Not all employers have WCB benefits and not all claims will be accepted, but it is often worth trying.

For employees without mental health benefits, there are some subsidized mental health supports, including the following:

Many family doctors have some training in providing mental health supports, and are an excellent resource for someone needing a short time off work for mental health reasons or a referral to a mental health expert.