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What Should Employees Do If They Are Harassed At Work?

Employees who experience harassment, or are harassed at work, can have a difficult time managing the situation, and in reality, should not handle the situation on their own. Employers have an obligation to address harassment in the workplace, and in many cases, can face steep financial repercussions in cases where they do not. This article answers common questions when it comes to employees being harassed at work, and how employers can respond.

In What Situations Is An Employee Considered to Be Harassed at Work?

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, workplace harassment is defined as a “course of vexatious comments or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.”

It is important to understand that nuanced acts can also be considered harassment within the workplace. For this reason, both employers and employees should be extremely diligent when it comes to any reports of harassment, as not every act will be overt and obvious.

What Can Employees Do If An Employee Is Being Harassed At Work?

As employees, it’s important to know what harassment is and how to address it in order to combat inappropriate, toxic workplace environments.

If you are on the receiving end of harassment, it is important to file a report or complaint. Review your company’s harassment policy and follow the necessary steps in order to report your complaint. If your company’s policy is vague on how to report such incidents, you should report to your manager or supervisor. As a result, once you disclose your complaint, the employer’s duty to investigate is triggered.

In extreme situations, which may be caught by the Criminal Code, an employer should look into referring the incident to police and requesting their involvement. This will ensure the safety of all within and outside of the workplace.

How Should Employers Address Harassment In The Workplace

Employers are expected to conduct a thorough and reasonable workplace investigation with an investigator who is neutral and removed from the situation. This ensures a fair and unbiased investigation.

As employers, it is good practice to review your workplace’s harassment policy periodically to make sure it is up to date. A fair and sound policy should include the definition of harassment in the workplace, how the complaint and investigation process is conducted and what the possible consequences could be for violating this policy.

Another effective way to prevent harassment in the workplace is through the implementation of anti-harassment training and policies. For example, employers can implement programming that explains the workplace policies, overview on human rights, and how to report incidents.

Employers must also have these same policies posted throughout the workplace. Constant visibility of the harassment policies should reinforce and remind staff about why this behaviour is inappropriate and what could happen to those who violate such mandates. Moreover, increasing the policy’s visibility will reiterate how the employer will investigate complaints; emphasize employees’ responsibilities; and remind employees about their rights and resources within the workplace

What Happens If Workplace Harassment Is Left Unaddressed?

Employers who fail to address complaints of harassment can potentially find themselves saddled with costly litigation before the courts or the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

As an employee, if your complaints regarding workplace harassment have been ignored, you may be considered to be constructively dismissed. Constructive dismissal is when the employer treats an employee in a way where the law would consider the employment relationship to be breached and the employee to have been terminated. In this scenario, employees may be entitled to pursue their termination entitlements.

Employees who have been on the receiving end of harassment and have not been remedied in their situation may benefit from talking to a lawyer. A lawyer may be able to help you navigate how to proceed in terms of next steps when it comes to unaddressed complaints of workplace harassment and constructive dismissals.

Employers may also benefit from speaking with a lawyer regarding their harassment policies. It is important to re-evaluate with a lawyer periodically and update workplace harassment policies, programs and training.

Contact Us 

If you are an employee who is being harassed at work, or an employer responding to a claim of harassment in the workplace, our team of experienced workplace lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at 1-800-771-7882 or email us at [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.

If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support with same day response, visit our CLO Program page for our strategic solutions.