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Workplace Bullying and Harassment in Ontario: A Guide for Employers

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Companies must be aware of workplace bullying as it fosters an undesirable workspace for all individuals. Moreover, provincial legislation requires employers in Ontario to guard their employees against workplace hazards, which include bullying.

What qualifies as bullying?

Bullying in the workplace is typically recognized as physical acts or verbal remarks that ‘mentally’ hurt or isolate an employee. This behaviour is often repeated and aimed at degrading, intimidating, humiliating, or offending.

Bullying at work can also take the form of demonstrating power through aggression. Examples of workplace violence or harassment are:

  • Intentionally impeding a person’s work
  • Social isolation or exclusion
  • Attempting to hit a co-worker
  • Setting up an individual for failure, through unreasonable deadlines
  • Communicating jokes that are ‘clearly offensive’ through spoken word or e-mail

It should be noted that sound action by an employer or supervisor related to employee management, respectful disagreement, and constructive work-related criticism are not considered bullying.

What qualifies as harassment in Ontario?

Although Ontario does not have specific laws addressing workplace bullying, there is existing legislation on workplace violence and harassment. Both the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) address this topic from unique angles.

The OHSA outlines a clear standard regarding physical and mental health and safety for all parties in the workforce. Meanwhile, the OHRC focuses on discrimination on various grounds, such as sexual orientation, marital status, age, religion, race, gender and more.

What is the most commonly reported type of workplace harassment?

The most common type of workplace harassment was verbal abuse—13% of women and 10% of men reported having experienced it in the past year. The next most common type was humiliating behaviour—6% of women and 5% of men reported having experienced it, while about 3% of each said they had experienced threats.

What is the most commonly reported type of workplace harassment?

A survey conducted in 2018 in partnership with Statistics Canada found that the most common type of workplace harassment was verbal abuse, with 13% of women and 10% of men reporting verbal abuse in the past 12 months. The next most common type of workplace harassment was humiliating behaviour, with 6% of women and 5% of men reportedly experiencing this, and 3% of each reporting that they had experienced threats.

Where can employees report workplace harassment in Ontario?

When employees encounter threats or actual violence at the workplace, they should contact the police. Other incidents and complaints should be resolved internally, by bringing the issues to the attention of the supervisor or employer and/or the person identified in the workplace harassment program.

A worker may also attempt to resolve a workplace harassment incident or complaint outside of the employer’s internal investigation process.If an employer isn’t complying with the requirements under the OHSA, workers are advised to call the ministry’s province-wide Health & Safety Contact Centre at 1-877-202-0008 to file a complaint.

What is not considered workplace harassment?

When deciding whether to report workplace harassment, employees should be aware of what does not constitute harassment. This includes management exercising their right to manage, workplace conflict, work-related stress, difficult conditions of employment, professional constraints, organizational changes, isolated incidents such as inappropriate remarks or having an abrupt manner, social relationships, and/or friendly gestures among co-workers.

What are employer responsibilities to prevent bullying in the workplace?

It’s important that employers aren’t passive concerning this serious issue. An organization’s management should communicate their commitment to preventing bullying at work through a comprehensive written policy.

Employers should also have measures in place for employees to report incidents of workplace violence and harassment. Without established policies to protect employees from bullying, employers are exposed to the risk of law suits and potential financial penalties.

Do you need assistance addressing bullying in your workplace?

Our experts can help you develop company policies as well as with any other HR and health and safety advice you need. See how we have helped other small and medium businesses get their business compliant with provincial legislation.