ontario workplace harassment article

Ontario Workplace Harassment? What Should You Do

In Ontario, fostering a workplace free from harassment is a matter of creating a positive environment and a legal requirement. This article is tailored to help both employers and employees navigate the complexities of “Ontario workplace harassment,” offering insights into legal definitions, prevention strategies, and steps to address incidents effectively.

Defining Workplace Harassment in Ontario

“Ontario workplace harassment” is defined under the Occupational Health and Safety Act as engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. This encompasses various forms of demeaning behaviour, from verbal slurs to physical intimidation.

Addressing Bullying, Harassment, and Discrimination at Work?

Bullying, harassment, and discrimination can undermine a healthy work environment and affect your well-being. If you’re encountering these issues in your workplace, it’s important to know your rights and how to seek recourse. Achkar Law provides a 60-minute consultation to offer you legal advice and support, helping you understand your options for a safer and more respectful workplace.

Common Forms of Harassment in Ontario Workplaces

Let’s look at the common types of workplace harassment so we can all learn to spot them and help stop them.

Verbal and Physical Harassment

  • Verbal Harassment: This form involves making derogatory comments, jokes, insults, or slurs towards an individual or group based on characteristics such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. It can occur in conversations, meetings, phone calls, or even through written communications such as emails and texts.
  • Physical Harassment: Physical harassment includes any unwanted physical contact ranging from seemingly benign actions like patting or touching to more aggressive forms such as pushing, shoving, or physical assault. It also covers gestures that can create an intimidating or hostile work environment.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of harassment that includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This can manifest as inappropriate touching, suggestive comments, lewd jokes, or the display of sexually explicit material. It’s important to recognize that sexual harassment can affect anyone, regardless of their sex or gender, and can come from colleagues, supervisors, or clients.


With the increasing use of digital platforms for communication, cyberbullying has become a significant concern in the workplace. This form of harassment includes sending threatening emails, sharing derogatory comments on social media, online shaming, or spreading rumors through digital means. Cyberbullying can be particularly insidious as it can occur outside traditional workplace hours and environments, extending the reach of workplace harassment into the private lives of individuals.

Discrimination and Retaliation

  • Discrimination: This occurs when an employee is treated unfairly or unfavorably because of certain protected characteristics, such as age, race, gender, disability, religion, or sexual orientation. Discrimination can affect various aspects of employment, including hiring, training, job assignments, promotions, and compensation.
  • Retaliation: Retaliation involves punitive actions taken against an employee for engaging in legally protected activities, such as reporting harassment or discrimination, participating in an investigation, or supporting a harassed colleague. Examples include demotion, dismissal, reduced hours, pay cuts, or exclusion from professional development opportunities.

Understanding these forms of harassment is crucial for both preventing them and responding effectively when they occur. Ontario workplaces are required to have policies and procedures in place to address such behaviors, ensuring a safe and respectful environment for all employees. Recognizing and addressing these issues promptly can help maintain a positive work culture, reduce legal risks, and support employee well-being.

Responding to Workplace Harassment in Ontario:  Step-by-Step

Dealing with workplace harassment can be tough, but knowing the right steps to take can help make the process less daunting. Here’s what you can do if you find yourself facing harassment at work in Ontario:

1. Document the Behaviour

  • What It Means: Keep a detailed log of what happened, including the date, time, who was involved, and exactly what was said or done. If there were any witnesses or if the harassment was through texts or emails, make a note of that too.
  • Why It’s Important: This record can be very helpful if you decide to report the harassment. It’s proof of what you’ve experienced and shows that it’s a repeated problem, not just a one-time thing.

2. Review Your Workplace Policies

  • What It Means: Look up your company’s rules or guidelines about harassment. These are often found in your employee handbook or the company intranet. This will tell you how your company says they’ll handle these situations.
  • Why It’s Important: Knowing your workplace’s policies helps you understand what steps you can take next and who in the company you can talk to about the harassment.

3. Report Appropriately

  • What It Means: Once you’re ready, report the harassment to someone in charge, like your manager, HR, or a designated harassment officer, depending on what your workplace policy suggests.
  • Why It’s Important: Reporting starts the official process for dealing with the harassment. It’s a big step towards stopping it and making your workplace safer for everyone.

4. Seek External Advice

  • What It Means: If you’re not sure what to do, or if reporting it at work doesn’t help, you might want to talk to a lawyer who knows a lot about workplace harassment in Ontario. They can give you advice on your rights and what other steps you can take.
  • Why It’s Important: Sometimes, situations are complicated or don’t get resolved internally. An expert can guide you through your next options, which might include legal action.

5. Take Care of Your Mental Health

  • What It Means: Experiencing harassment can be really hard on your mental and emotional well-being. It’s okay to seek support from friends, family, or professionals like therapists or counselors.
  • Why It’s Important: Taking care of yourself helps you cope with the stress and emotional toll that harassment can cause. It’s important to remember you’re not alone and support is available.

Experiencing Workplace Bullying, Harassment, or Discrimination?

Every employee deserves a respectful and safe working environment. Facing bullying, harassment, or discrimination can be isolating, but you’re not alone. Legal support can provide a pathway to resolution. Achkar Law offers consultations to discuss your situation and explore effective strategies to address these challenges, ensuring your rights are upheld and your workplace is respectful and secure.

Employer Strategies for Addressing Ontario Workplace Harassment

Employers have a pivotal role in preventing and responding to workplace harassment. Key strategies include:

  • Creating Clear Anti-Harassment Policies

    • What It Means: Develop detailed policies that clearly define what counts as harassment in the workplace, including examples of unacceptable behaviours and the steps the company will take when policies are violated. These policies should align with Ontario’s legal standards and be easily accessible to all employees.
    • Why It’s Important: Clear policies not only inform employees of their rights and responsibilities but also demonstrate the organization’s commitment to maintaining a harassment-free workplace. They serve as a foundation for the company’s response to reported incidents.

    Educational Programs

    • What It Means: Implement ongoing training programs for all employees, including management, on recognizing, preventing, and responding to workplace harassment. These programs should cover the nuances of what constitutes harassment, the importance of a respectful workplace, and how to report concerns.
    • Why It’s Important: Education raises awareness and understanding, equipping employees with the knowledge to prevent harassment and fostering a culture of respect. Regular training ensures that new and existing employees are informed and vigilant.

    Effective Reporting Mechanisms

    • What It Means: Establish a confidential and straightforward process for employees to report harassment. This could include multiple channels, such as direct reports to supervisors, HR departments, or a dedicated hotline, ensuring there are options for employees who may not feel comfortable reporting through standard hierarchies.
    • Why It’s Important: A transparent and accessible reporting system encourages victims and witnesses to come forward with their concerns, crucial for addressing issues early and effectively.

    Prompt Investigation Procedures

    • What It Means: Once a complaint is made, it should be investigated promptly and thoroughly, following a standardized procedure. This process should be impartial, respecting the privacy and dignity of all involved parties. It may involve interviews, reviewing documentation, and gathering evidence.
    • Why It’s Important: Timely and fair investigations help to resolve issues efficiently, reinforce trust in the system, and ensure that appropriate actions are taken to address misconduct and prevent recurrence.

    Support Systems

    • What It Means: Offer support and resources to employees who have experienced harassment. This could include counseling services, legal assistance, or adjustments to their work environment. Support also means protecting employees from retaliation for reporting harassment.
    • Why It’s Important: Providing support helps affected employees recover and feel safe in their workplace. It also demonstrates the employer’s commitment to their well-being and to a positive work culture.

Confronting Bullying, Harassment, or Discrimination at Work?

Confronting issues of bullying, harassment, or discrimination is crucial for maintaining a dignified work environment. If these challenges impact you or someone you know, understanding the legal framework and support options is the first step towards change. Achkar Law is dedicated to empowering employees and employers with the knowledge and tools needed to foster a workplace free from harmful behaviours. Our 60-minute consultation is designed to start you on the path to a resolution.

The Consequences of Ignoring Workplace Harassment in Ontario

Ignoring workplace harassment in Ontario can have a broad range of negative consequences for both the organization and its employees. Here’s a more detailed examination of these potential outcomes:

Legal Repercussions

  • What It Means: Employers who fail to address workplace harassment may face legal action from affected employees. Ontario’s legal framework, including the Occupational Health and Safety Act, mandates employers to prevent and address harassment. Non-compliance can result in fines, penalties, and mandated changes to workplace practices.
  • Why It’s Important: Beyond the immediate financial impact, legal challenges can consume significant time and resources, diverting attention from the organization’s core activities and potentially leading to stricter regulatory oversight.

Decreased Morale

  • What It Means: When harassment is not addressed, it can create a toxic work environment, leading to low employee morale. Workers may feel undervalued, unsafe, and stressed, which can diminish their engagement, productivity, and overall satisfaction with their job.
  • Why It’s Important: Low morale can ripple through the workplace, affecting not just the victims of harassment but their colleagues as well. This can result in increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, and challenges in team dynamics and collaboration.

Damaged Organizational Reputation

  • What It Means: News of unaddressed harassment can spread quickly, especially in today’s digital age, tarnishing the organization’s public image. Potential clients, customers, and future employees may view the company negatively, associating it with a disregard for employee well-being and ethical standards.
  • Why It’s Important: A damaged reputation can have long-lasting effects on the organization’s ability to attract and retain talent, secure business opportunities, and maintain customer loyalty. Rebuilding trust and restoring the organization’s image can be a lengthy and challenging process.

Increased Turnover

  • What It Means: Employees who face harassment, or who see it go unaddressed, are more likely to leave the organization in search of a safer, more respectful work environment. This turnover includes not only the victims of harassment but also those who are disillusioned by the company’s failure to act.
  • Why It’s Important: High turnover rates can lead to significant costs related to recruiting, hiring, and training new employees. Additionally, the loss of experienced and skilled workers can impact the organization’s operational effectiveness and competitive edge.

Impact on Physical and Mental Health

  • What It Means: Continuous exposure to a hostile work environment can have severe implications for employees’ physical and mental health. Stress, anxiety, depression, and other health issues may arise, leading to increased medical leave and healthcare costs.
  • Why It’s Important: The well-being of employees directly affects their performance and the overall health of the organization. Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy work environment, and failing to do so can result in a workforce that is less productive and more prone to health issues.

Ready to Address Workplace Harassment in Ontario? Let’s Talk.

If you’re navigating the complexities of workplace harassment in Ontario, you don’t have to face it alone. A 60-minute consultation with one of our experienced lawyers can provide you with the clarity, direction, and support you need to address your concerns effectively.

Why Invest in a Consultation?

  • Personalized Advice: Get tailored guidance that considers your specific situation and the nuances of Ontario workplace harassment law.
  • Understand Your Rights: Learn about your legal rights and options for addressing harassment in the workplace.
  • Strategic Planning: Develop a clear strategy on how to proceed, whether it’s filing a complaint, negotiating a resolution, or preparing for legal action.
  • Peace of Mind: Gain confidence in knowing you’re taking informed steps towards creating a safer, more respectful workplace.

Harassment in the workplace can feel overwhelming, but you’re not alone. Our team is dedicated to providing you with the knowledge and strategies to navigate these challenges confidently. Take the first step towards addressing workplace harassment in Ontario by booking your 60-minute consultation today.

Don’t wait for the situation to escalate. Contact us now to schedule your consultation and move forward with confidence.

Contact Achkar Law at 1-800-771-7882 | email at [email protected]

Addressing Bullying, Harassment, and Discrimination at Work?

Bullying, harassment, and discrimination can undermine a healthy work environment and affect your well-being. If you’re encountering these issues in your workplace, it’s important to know your rights and how to seek recourse. Achkar Law provides a 60-minute consultation to offer you legal advice and support, helping you understand your options for a safer and more respectful workplace.