Harassment in the Workplace

Ontario law prohibits workplace harassment and provides rights for workers who experience harassment. Employers have obligations under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA”) to address workplace harassment.

Employers have additional obligations under the Human Rights Code (the “Code”), where harassment is connected to a ground of discrimination that is prohibited under the Code. This post deals with employer obligations under the OHSA, and does not address the additional Code rights and obligations.

Workplace harassment is a course of problematic behaviour or comments against a worker which is unwelcome. It is typically a series of incidents, but one incident may be serious enough to constitute harassment. Harassment includes: offensive comments or jokes, bullying or aggressive behavior, sexual harassment, inappropriate staring, and isolating or making fun of a worker because of their gender identity.

Managers reasonably coaching or disciplining workers is not considered to be harassment under the OHSA.

What to do if you are being harassed

Harassment will need to be proven, both in terms of whether the acts themselves are considered harassment, and the fact that they occurred. If you are experiencing behaviour that you understand to be harassment, it is important to gather any evidence regarding the incidents and details of the events.

It is important to keep a written record of the dates and locations of the incidents. It is also important to write notes as soon as you can about what was said or done, and by whom. If anyone witnessed any of the incidents, you should take notes of who witnessed which incidents.

Experiencing harassment can also impact your health. It is important to speak to your doctor or other healthcare professional about how the experience at work is impacting you. They may be able to recommend an appropriate treatment plan. It is important to discuss any accommodations that you might need in the workplace while dealing with harassment.

It is important to report harassment to your employer as soon as possible.

Reporting Harassment

Employer are required to have a workplace harassment policy. They must have a workplace harassment program, describing how to make a complaint, and how the complaints will be dealt with.

Employers are required to conduct an appropriate investigation into any incidents of harassment. Once an investigation has been conducted, employers are required to inform the complainant, and others involved, about the results of the investigation and any corrective action that it is taken. This must be done in writing.

What to do if the employer does not appropriately deal with the harassment

The Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (“MLITSD”) has inspectors who enforce the requirements of the OHSA.

You may file a complaint with MLITSD if your employer:

  • does not have a workplace harassment policy;
  • did not provide information and instruction on the employer’s policy; or
  • failed to conduct an appropriate investigation

An inspector can order the employer to create a policy if it does not have one, comply with its policy if it has not done so, or revise its policy if the policy does not comply with the OHSA. Inspectors will not investigate the allegations of harassment, determine whether harassment has occurred, or order compensation.

It is against the OHSA for an employer to terminate, suspend, or otherwise disadvantage a worker for asserting their rights regarding workplace harassment. If your employer disadvantages you, or discriminates against you because you complained about harassment, you may file a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

If your employer met its duties under the OHSA in the process of dealing with the allegations of harassment, but it has not resolved the workplace issues for you, it is best to speak to an employment lawyer with experience in workplace harassment.

This is legal information and not legal advice. If you need further information or need legal advice, please call our Intake Line at 416-441-1764 ext. 1 or complete our online Intake Form.