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Workplace Harassment

Workplace harassment may escalate to threats or acts of physical violence or a targeted worker may react violently to prolonged harassment in the workplace. It is important for employers to recognize these behaviours and to deal with them promptly because they could lead to workplace violence.

The requirement for all workplaces to have a workplace harassment policy and program will help workplace parties recognize and deal with workplace harassment before it escalates into possible workplace violence.

3.1 Workplace Harassment Policy

Employers must prepare and review a policy on workplace harassment at least annually, as required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act [Section 32.0.1(b) and (c)].

The policy is required regardless of the size of the workplace or the number of workers.

If six or more workers are regularly employed at the workplace, the policy must be in writing and it must be posted in a conspicuous place in the workplace.

If less than six workers are regularly employed in the workplace, the policy does not necessarily have to be written [Sections 32.0.1(2) and (3)]. However, a Ministry of Labour inspector may order the policy to be in writing [Section 55.1].

Employers may choose to prepare a separate policy regarding workplace harassment or they may combine it with a workplace violence policy [Section 32.0.1(1)(a)] or occupational health and safety policy [Section 25(2)(j)].

Employers may also deal with workplace harassment by including it in an existing anti-harassment or anti-discrimination policy based on the criteria for harassment in Ontario’s Human Rights Code. However, if an employer has an existing anti-harassment or anti-discrimination policy, the policy would need to be modified in order to meet the requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. This is because the act’s definition of “workplace harassment” goes beyond the prohibited grounds in the code. See Section 4.4 of this guide for a list of the prohibited grounds in the code.

The workplace harassment policy should:

  • show an employer’s commitment to addressing workplace harassment;
  • consider workplace harassment from all sources such as customers, clients, employers, supervisors, workers, strangers and domestic/intimate partners;
  • outline the roles and responsibilities of the workplace parties in supporting the policy and program; and
  • be dated and signed by the highest level of management at the workplace.

See Appendix C for an example to help you develop your workplace harassment policy.

Can the workplace harassment policy and program be combined?

Yes, the policy and program can be combined as long as all of the requirements of the policy and program are complied with. Although the Occupational Health and Safety Act does not require the program to be in writing, an employer may choose to combine the workplace harassment policy and program.

3.2 Workplace Harassment Program

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, an employer must develop and maintain a program to implement the workplace harassment policy [Section 32.0.6(1)].

The program must include:

  • (a) measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment to the employer or supervisor [Section 32.0.6(2)(a)];
  • (b) how the employer will investigate and deal with incidents and complaints of workplace harassment [Section 32.0.6(2)(b)]; and
  • (c) any prescribed elements that may be included in regulations made under the act [Section 32.0.6.(2)(c)].

See Appendix D for an example to help you develop your workplace harassment program.

Does an employer have to assess the risk that harassment may occur in the workplace?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act does not require an employer to assess the risk of workplace harassment.

3.3 Information and Instruction on Workplace Harassment

An employer must provide appropriate information and instruction to workers on the contents of the workplace harassment policy and program, as required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act [Section 32.0.7].

All workers should be aware of the employer’s policy on workplace harassment. Workers should:

  • know how to report incidents of workplace harassment to the employer or supervisor; and
  • know how the employer will investigate and deal with incidents or complaints of workplace harassment.

Workers may need other information and instruction on workplace harassment, depending on their jobs.

Some workers may need to be trained to recognize and respond to harassment or trained in specialized techniques to deal with harassment.

Supervisors may need additional information or instruction, especially if they are going to follow up on reported incidents or complaints of workplace harassment.

Employers, supervisors and unions also need to be aware of their responsibilities to prevent and address harassment prohibited under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

See Section 4.4 - Ontario Human Rights System for more information.

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