Workplace Harassment in Ontario: Recognizing, Reporting, and Resolving

Harassment in Ontario: Explained

Nobody should endure the pain of harassment or bullying, especially when it persists over time. Harassment can occur anywhere, whether it’s on the street or at your workplace, and it can affect anyone.

If you’re facing harassment, you might be feeling anxious or uncertain about your legal rights and how to respond. Questions may arise, such as whom to approach in your workplace if you’re being harassed, especially if it’s your boss or a superior. Making decisions in such uncomfortable situations can be challenging.

This article aims to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of various forms of harassment and offer guidance on the initial steps to take when dealing with a harassment situation.

What is Harassment?

In Canada, harassment can take both criminal and non-criminal forms. This implies that certain instances of harassment, when they escalate significantly, may lead to criminal charges in an Ontario court. Nevertheless, criminal charges typically apply to the most severe cases.

In the Canadian Criminal Code, criminal harassment is defined as consisting of:

  • Following the person, or the person’s close contact or relation, from place to place;
  • Repeatedly trying to contact or communicate with the person, or that person’s close contact or relation;
  • The act of watching, stalking, or repeatedly visiting the home, workplace, or place where that person, or their close contact or relation, frequents often; and
  • Threatening that person, or someone who the person knows or is a close contact of. 

Experiencing Harassment at Work?

Workplace harassment is unacceptable and can significantly impact your well-being and job performance. If you’re facing harassment at work, it’s important to know that you have rights and there are legal protections in place to support you. Achkar Law is committed to providing confidential advice and effective strategies to address and stop harassment, helping you to secure a safe and respectful work environment. Reach out to us for a consultation to discuss your situation and how we can assist.

As well, five elements of the offense must be met:

  • The harasser must have engaged in the conduct described above;
  • The person making the accusation must have been “harassed”;
  • The harasser must have known that the other person was being harassed;
  • The person being harassed must have feared for their safety; and
  • Their fear must be reasonable.

If harassment is found to be criminal, the harasser could face a criminal conviction if proven guilty by a Canadian court.

However, not all instances of harassment result in charges in a criminal court. Some individuals may opt for pursuing legal action in civil court if they are already engaged in such proceedings or if they prefer not to become involved in a criminal case.

In an Ontario civil court, harassment is defined by these elements:

  • Outrageous conduct committed by the harasser;
  • Emotional distress caused by the harasser;
  • The person being harassed has suffered emotional distress; and
  • The emotional distress can be tied back to the harm done by the harasser.

Essentially, what the law is saying is that harassment must be clearly committed either intentionally or recklessly by the harasser. As well, the emotional harm that was suffered from the harassment must be proved.

Outside of the workplace, harassment can look like a number of different things, including someone targeting another person through constant surveillance, or by repeatedly following them. 

In the workplace, harassment can take many forms, but it will usually involve conduct or comments that are unwanted and that are known to cause distress. 

Workplace Harassment in Ontario

Workplace harassment can manifest in various ways. It may involve discriminatory actions, where an individual experiences adverse treatment due to factors like race or gender, either from a supervisor or a coworker. Additionally, it can encompass inappropriate sexual advances from a boss or colleague, among other forms of misconduct.

According to Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), harassment in the workplace is defined as:

  • Vexatious comments or conduct toward a worker in a workplace that is known to be unwelcome; or
  • Workplace sexual harassment. 

In 2018, Canada revised the law on workplace harassment, requiring employers to consider how they would tackle the issue. In 2020, the law was updated again, requiring employers to have more responsibilities around harassment. 

Workplace harassment can occur within the confines of an office, during remote work situations from home, and even extend to interactions and communications outside of regular work hours.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Unfortunately, sexual harassment does happen both in and out of workplace. Since the workplace is where many people spend most of their day, it is a particular area of concern as harassment can easily become a pattern. 

Sexual harassment is considered to be a form of discrimination based on the definition of sex in the Ontario Human Rights Code

Sexual harassment might include:

  • Vexatious comments or conduct based on someone’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, where the comments or conduct are known to be unwelcome; or
  • Making a sexual solicitation or advance where the person making the solicitation or advance is in a position of power in the workplace over the person being harassed. The conduct should also be known to be unwelcome. 

What You Can Do If You Are a Target of Harassment

If you suspect you’re facing harassment, whether at work or in other settings, your initial step should be to preserve all evidence related to the harassment. This may encompass messages, emails, phone records, or any physical evidence of the misconduct. These items serve as crucial evidence to establish that you’ve been subjected to harassment and that it has caused you distress.

After collecting evidence, it’s advisable to reach out to a competent attorney. A lawyer can guide you in determining your subsequent course of action and provide legal counsel.

How a Lawyer Can Assist in Harassment Claims

A lawyer can provide essential assistance in harassment claims in the following ways:

  1. Legal Expertise: Lawyers are well-versed in employment and harassment laws, allowing them to offer advice and guidance throughout the process.
  2. Evidence Evaluation: They can assess the evidence you’ve collected and advise on its strength in supporting your claim.
  3. Protection of Rights: Lawyers ensure that your legal rights are protected and that you’re aware of your options for addressing the harassment.
  4. Communication: They can communicate on your behalf with relevant parties, such as employers, HR departments, or even the alleged harasser.
  5. Negotiation: Lawyers can negotiate on your behalf to reach a resolution, which may include settlements or other remedies.
  6. Legal Action: If necessary, they can help you pursue legal action in the appropriate forum, whether it’s through a government agency, tribunal, or the court system.

Having a lawyer by your side can significantly strengthen your position when addressing harassment claims, ensuring you receive the support and guidance needed to achieve a fair resolution.

In Summary

Experiencing harassment can evoke feelings of confusion, concern, and profound unease. Harassment knows no boundaries and can occur even within a workplace, resulting in significant emotional distress. In such situations, it’s crucial to document instances of harassment and seek assistance.

If you suspect that you’re facing discrimination or harassment, don’t hesitate to reach out to a skilled lawyer at Achkar Law for valuable guidance and information on how to address your situation effectively.

Need Employment Legal Advice? Contact Achkar Law Today

At Achkar Law, we understand the complexities of employment law for both employers and employees. Whether you’re facing workplace challenges or need legal guidance, we’re here to help. Reach out to our experts for personalized advice.

Experiencing Harassment at Work?

Workplace harassment is unacceptable and can significantly impact your well-being and job performance. If you’re facing harassment at work, it’s important to know that you have rights and there are legal protections in place to support you. Achkar Law is committed to providing confidential advice and effective strategies to address and stop harassment, helping you to secure a safe and respectful work environment. Reach out to us for a consultation to discuss your situation and how we can assist.