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Workplace Toxicity and Harassment: Employers Can Address It

The productivity and overall well-being of employees can be completely derailed by the presence of workplace toxicity and harassment. Accordingly, it is crucial for employers to prevent and address such issues in order to foster a healthy and inclusive workplace. 

This article will explore the steps employers should take to recognize, address, and prevent workplace toxicity and harassment. The article will also discuss possible consequences that can arise due to the presence of harassment in the workplace.

Recognizing Workplace Toxicity and Harassment

A toxic or poisoned work environment is an unbearable atmosphere caused by a pattern of negative behaviours of coworkers and managers. Toxicity can be present in various forms, including gestures, words, or actions that aim to embarrass, hurt, or torment individuals. While toxic work environments often develop from repeated behaviours, even a single significant occurrence can be enough to create a toxic atmosphere.

To effectively address workplace toxicity and harassment, it is crucial for employers to recognize the common signs and indicators of such issues. In toxic workplaces, certain behaviours may serve as red flags, including:

  • Bullying: Workplace bullying, whether physical, verbal, or psychological, is a clear indication of a toxic environment. It creates fear and additional stress among employees, negatively impacting their well-being and performance.
  • Harassment: Harassment can be unwelcome, repeated words and/or actions that are known or should be known to be offensive, embarrassing, humiliating, or demeaning to a worker or group of workers.
  • Culture of gossip: When a workplace fosters a culture of spreading rumours and gossip about coworkers or supervisors, it deteriorates trust and creates negativity. 
  • Favouritism and nepotism: In a toxic work environment, promotions and rewards may be inequitably granted to a select few, leaving others feeling undervalued. Preferential treatment based on personal connections or shared characteristics creates an unfair advantage and fosters an unhealthy atmosphere.
  • Excessive workload: Toxic workplaces often burden employees with a workload larger than what they can manage, disregarding their abilities and well-being. Striking a balance between work and personal life, and showing empathy towards employees’ needs, is essential.
  • Micromanagement: Employees who feel stripped of independence, constantly monitored, and subjected to strict control by supervisors experience constant stress and fear. They may doubt the adequacy of their work, contributing to a toxic environment.
  • Fear of supervisors: Effective workplaces encourage open communication and provide ways for employees to express their concerns. However, when employers lack empathy and resort to punitive measures for behaviour that differs from their expectations, it can contribute to a toxic work environment.
  • Lack of trust and alarming body language: Employees exhibiting closed-off behaviour, minimal engagement, absence of smiling or positivity, and signs of discomfort indicate a toxic work environment. Poor working conditions hinder trust-building and make employees uncomfortable.
  • Feeling undervalued: Employees may consistently feel undervalued, either through verbal or nonverbal cues. Disregarding their input, and overlooking them for promotions or recognition despite their hard work can result in a toxic work environment.
  • Physical and emotional symptoms: Excessive stress in toxic work environments can manifest in physical symptoms. Employees may experience health issues due to the stress imposed by the toxic environment.

Recognizing these signs and indicators is crucial for employers as it enables them to be proactive about maintaining a positive work environment.

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Consequences of Workplace Toxicity and Harassment for Employers

Employers can be held responsible even if they were unaware of or not directly involved in the alleged harassment or toxic behaviour. This principle is known as vicarious liability, where an employer assumes responsibility for its employee’s actions occurring in the workplace or during work-related duties.

For example, even if a comment made by a coworker is meant as a joke, if a reasonable person would perceive it as hostile, harassing, or unwelcoming, then the employer may still be held liable for such comments. The employer could be liable if they failed to prevent the behaviour or if they were aware it took place but failed to take the appropriate action.

In Ontario, non-unionized employees have three main options for seeking redress if they believe their employer has created or failed to prevent a toxic workplace environment:

  • Human Rights Application: If the toxic environment stems from discriminatory conduct, employees can file a Human Rights application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. This allows employees to seek compensation for the violation of their human rights. The conduct or harassment must be connected to one of the protected grounds of discrimination outlined in Ontario Human Rights Code.
  • Health and safety violations: If the workplace violates health and safety regulations, employees can rely on the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) The OHSA mandates employers to have policies addressing workplace violence and harassment. It provides a means for the employer to investigate and take disciplinary measures against the harasser.
  • Constructive dismissal: Employees can allege constructive dismissal in court, claiming that the toxic environment amounts to a fundamental and unilateral change to their employment agreement.

Determining the best approach depends on the unique circumstances of each employee. It is advisable for employees to seek guidance from an employment lawyer. Consulting with a legal professional will help employees gain a comprehensive understanding of their rights and determine the best course of action to address their specific situation.

Preventive Measures for Employers

Employers should develop comprehensive policies on workplace harassment and discrimination, clearly outlining expected behaviour and the consequences of violations. These policies should be communicated to all employees and be integrated into the workplace culture.

It is crucial for employers to acknowledge and thoroughly investigate all complaints raised within the workplace. Taking complaints seriously and promptly addressing them is a fundamental obligation for employers.

Employers should establish procedures for employees to report concerns or seek assistance confidentially. This can include designated human resource representatives, anonymous reporting channels, and access to counselling or support services.

If workplace toxicity or harassment is present, employers should promptly take appropriate remedial actions. This may involve disciplinary measures, providing support to affected employees, and implementing preventive measures to mitigate the risk of future incidents.

Implementing these measures fosters a positive and inclusive work environment that enhances employee well-being, productivity, and retention. It reflects a dedication to upholding human rights and fostering a culture of respect and equality. By prioritizing prevention and nurturing a supportive workplace culture, employers can proactively tackle toxic environments and develop a positive and inclusive atmosphere for all employees.


Addressing workplace toxicity and harassment is of utmost importance for employers to maintain a healthy, safe, and inclusive work environment. By recognizing the signs and taking early action, employers can create a positive atmosphere for their employees.

Employers need to understand the consequences of contributing or permitting a toxic environment and be accountable for their own statements and actions. Employers can be held responsible for the actions of their employees through the principle of vicarious liability.

To prevent workplace toxicity and harassment, employers should implement preventive measures such as comprehensive policies that clearly define expected behaviour and consequences. They should prioritize investigating complaints, providing confidential reporting tools, and offering support services for affected employees.

In cases where workplace toxicity or harassment is present, employers should investigate the alleged conduct and take appropriate remedial actions.

By proactively addressing these issues and fostering a supportive workplace culture, employers can effectively promote the well-being of its employees, and retain its talent.

Contact Us 

If you are an employee or employer who has questions about or needs assistance relating to workplace toxicity and harassment, our team of experienced employment 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 will be happy to assist. 

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Contact us today to schedule a consultation with our Experienced Employment Lawyers

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