Workplace Harassment: What is it and what can you do about it if it’s happening to you?

By: Soheila Azimi, DVCLS Employment Law Team, Student Intern, Queen’s Law ‘24

What is Workplace Harassment?

When we think of workplace harassment, we usually think that it only includes sexual harassment. However, harassment covers an entire range of actions and comments. In short, harassment occurs when someone says or writes something or acts in a way that is known to be unwelcome, or should have known that the actions were unwelcome. This includes offensive comments or jokes, bullying or aggressive behaviour, inappropriate staring, sexual harassment, and isolating or making fun of a co-worker based on one of the protected grounds.

What Does the Law Say on Harassment in Employment?

Section 5(2) of the Ontario Human Rights Code says that “every person who is an employee has a right to freedom from harassment in the workplace by the employer or agent of the employer or by another employee because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, creed, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability.”

This means that as a professional setting, your workplace should always feel comfortable and safe. Even if you do not work a typical office job, you are still entitled to feel respected whether you work as a retail sales associate, a server or bartender, a nurse, or whether you work within a predominantly “gendered” industry.

What are Your Rights?

In Ontario, your employer is required to have a workplace harassment policy that outlines how to make a complaint or how to report an incident of workplace harassment with the company, as well as how the employer will investigate and deal with those complaints or incidents. Your employer must investigate all harassment complaints accordingly and inform you (as the complainant) about the result of their investigation. Section 32.0.7 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act establishes your employer’s legal obligation to investigate all harassment complaints. After their investigation is complete, your employer must take the appropriate steps given the nature of the complaint to remedy the situation.

If your employer does not have their own form or procedure for filing harassment complaints, you may fill out this form instead and provide it to your employer. You can provide this form anonymously if you were a witness to workplace harassment and would prefer to have your identity concealed.

The Ministry of Labour recommends that if you suspect you are being harassed at work. you should tell your supervisor, manager, or person designated by your employer that you feel harassed. If you are in a union, then you may contact your union representative.

However, if your employer does not have a workplace harassment policy, does not provide you with information and instruction on their policy, or does not take adequate steps to address and rectify your harassment complaint, you may file a complaint with the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development online or by phone by calling the Ministry of Labour Health and Safety Contact Centre at 1-877-202-0008.

Furthermore, if you believe that you were harassed on the basis of one of the below protected grounds and your employer lacks a workplace harassment policy and corresponding complaint filing system, then you may file a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. You can find the application here. Once you have completed your application, you may submit it by email to the HRTO Registrar at

Protected grounds:

  • Race
  • Colour
  • Creed
  • Place of origin
  • Sex
  • Ethnic origin
  • Citizenship
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Record of offences
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Ancestry
  • Marital status
  • Family status

It is also always helpful to speak to a lawyer about your options if your employer fails to investigate and resolve your harassment complaint. You can find a lawyer at your local legal clinic in Ontario. The list of legal clinics is online here.

Tips and Tricks to Protect Yourself

If you suspect that you are being harassed at work, keep a written record of when and where you were harassed. Note things like what was said, what was done, who said it. who did it, and the names of any witnesses. Save any messages, records of phone calls, emails, and all other communication that you received from the individual(s) harassing you.

Being able to prove the harassment you experienced and being able to name others who can corroborate its occurrence will be beneficial to your employer’s investigation into your harassment complaint or any other remedy you choose to pursue.

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.