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Being Harassed At Work?
Information for Workers

Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help the workplace parties understand some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations. For further information please see full disclaimer.

Workplace harassment is NEVER okay. An employer has specific obligations under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to deal with workplace harassment.

What is workplace harassment?

Workplace harassment occurs when a person engages in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace which is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. This also includes workplace sexual harassment.

Workplace harassment includes, but is not limited to: offensive comments or jokes; bullying or aggressive behaviour; inappropriate staring; sexual harassment; isolating or making fun of a worker because of their gender identity.

A reasonable action taken by a manager or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the workplace is not workplace harassment.

What should you do if you are being harassed at work?

Tell your supervisor, manager or person designated by your employer that you feel harassed at work. If you are in a union, you may contact your union. Keep a written record of when and where you were harassed, what was said or done, who said or did it and the names of any witnesses.

What are your employer’s duties?

Your employer must:

  • have a workplace harassment policy and review it as often as necessary, but at least annually;
  • have a workplace harassment program that describes how to make a complaint or report an incident of workplace harassment and how those complaints or incidents will be investigated and dealt with;
  • provide information and instruction to workers on the employer’s workplace harassment policy and program.

Effective September 8, 2016, an employer has additional duties to:

  • ensure the written program is developed and maintained in consultation with the Joint Health and Safety Committee or health and safety representative, if any.
  • ensure an appropriate investigation is conducted into incidents or complaints of workplace harassment;
  • inform a worker who has allegedly experienced workplace harassment and the alleged harasser, if they are a worker of the employer, in writing of the results of the investigation and any corrective action that has been or will be taken;
  • review the workplace harassment program as often as necessary, but at least once a year.

Should I contact the Ministry of Labour for help?

Ministry of Labour (MOL) inspectors enforce the OHSA requirements. If your employer fails to comply with its duties under the OHSA, the MOL may investigate to determine compliance. For example, if you reported to your employer that you were being harassed at work and your employer did not ensure an investigation appropriate in the circumstances was conducted into your complaint, the MOL may investigate to decide if your employer met their obligations under the OHSA. It is important to note that MOL inspectors do not investigate into specific allegations or the behaviour of any individuals involved to determine if workplace harassment occurred or not. Inspectors cannot order compensation or other individual remedies.

If you are disciplined, suspended or threatened for exercising your rights under the OHSA, you may file a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board or, if you are unionized, you may contact your union. If you do not have a union, you may wish to get advice from the Office of the Worker Advisor (see below).

Where to go for help

Call police

If you have been a victim of a criminal offence such as assault, sexual assault or criminal harassment (stalking), you should call the police.

Employee programs

Incidents or complaints of workplace harassment should be reported to your employer. Also check to see if there is a person at your workplace who you can contact for confidential support (i.e. employee assistance program).

Human rights

To talk about your rights under Ontario’s Human Rights Code (which prohibits discrimination and harassment based on a protected ground such as race, colour, creed, place of origin, sex, ethnic origin, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, record of offences, age, disability, religion, ancestry, marital status and family status), contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre. To file a human rights application, contact the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO). For more information about human rights, visit the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s website. Note: The time limit for filing an application at the HRTO is one (1) year from the date of the last incident of discrimination or harassment.

Law Society Referral Service

Visit the Law Society of Upper Canada referral service to request the name of a lawyer or paralegal who will provide up to 30 minutes of free consultation to explore your options. A crisis line is available for people who would like a referral to a legal representative but are unable to use the online service. You can also ask to be referred to a lawyer or paralegal who speaks languages other than English or French, or a lawyer who accepts legal aid certificates.

Ontario Ministry of Labour

If your employer does not have a workplace harassment policy or program and/or did not provide information and instruction on the employer’s policy and program, you may contact the Ministry of Labour. As of September 8, 2016, you may contact the Ministry of Labour about a workplace harassment complaint if your employer fails to conduct an investigation that is appropriate in the circumstances.

Ontario Labour Relations Board

A worker who believes that the employer has reprised against him or her may file a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB). For more information see the OLRB’s Information Bulletin No. 14 on reprisals.

Office of the Worker Adviser

If you think your employer has threatened or punished you for exercising your rights under the OHSA and you are not a member of a union, contact the Office of the Worker Adviser for advice.

Assaulted Women’s Helpline

The Assaulted Women’s Helpline offers a 24-hour telephone service to provide counselling, emotional support, information and referrals to women who have experienced abuse.

Disclaimer: This web resource has been prepared to assist the workplace parties in understanding some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the regulations. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations and reference should always be made to the official version of the legislation.

It is the responsibility of the workplace parties to ensure compliance with the legislation. This web resource does not constitute legal advice. If you require assistance with respect to the interpretation of the legislation and its potential application in specific circumstances, please contact your legal counsel.

While this web resource will also be available to Ministry of Labour inspectors, they will apply and enforce the OHSA and its regulations based on the facts as they may find them in the workplace. This web resource does not affect their enforcement discretion in any way.