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Workplace Bullying and Harassment in Ontario: A Guide for Employers


According to Statistics Canada, 19% of women and 13% of men reported that they had experienced harassment in their workplace in 2018. A 2018 WSIB Statistical Report revealed that between 2014 and 2018, insured workers filed 13,338 lost-time injury reports due to assaults, violent acts, harassment, or act of war or terrorism. This represented 5% of the total reported injuries.

Workplace bullying and harassment are serious issues that can have detrimental effects on employees and their employers. Bullying and harassment can lead to decreased morale, lower productivity, and increased turnover, resulting in significant financial losses for businesses.

In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) sets out specific obligations for provincially-regulated employers to prevent, investigate, and address workplace bullying and harassment.  This guide aims to provide employers with an understanding of workplace bullying and harassment, the legal requirements, and practical tips for preventing and addressing these issues in the workplace.

What qualifies as bullying in Ontario?

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 in Canada?

A survey conducted in 2018 in partnership with Statistics Canada found that the most common type of workplace harassment in Canada 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?

Employers must create and uphold workplace violence and harassment policies and procedures, make such policies available to employees, and investigate and respond to bullying and harassment complaints. Without established policies to protect employees from bullying, employers are exposed to the risk of law suits and potential financial penalties.

The best way to address workplace bullying and harassment is to prevent it from happening in the first place. As an employer, you can take several steps to create a safe and respectful workplace:

Develop a workplace harassment policy

It’s important that employers aren’t passive concerning this serious issue. You should develop a clear and comprehensive written policy that outlines your organization’s stance on workplace harassment. This policy must be drafted in consultation with your occupational health and safety committee or workplace representative. Your policy should define what constitutes workplace harassment, the consequences of engaging in such behavior, and the procedures for reporting incidents of harassment in a way that is easy to read and understand.

Provide training

Provide regular training to all employees, supervisors, and managers on workplace harassment. This training should cover what constitutes harassment, how to recognize it, and the steps to take if an employee experiences harassment. Make sure you get a sign-off from your employees that acknowledges receipt and understanding of the policy and its procedures related to reporting and associated disciplinary action for policy violation.

Encourage reporting

Promote compliance by encouraging employees to report any incidents of harassment, and make it clear that they will not face retaliation for doing so. Provide multiple channels for reporting, such as an anonymous hotline, an email address, or a designated individual within the organization.

Do you need help drafting a policy that prevents workplace bullying and harassment?

Workplace bullying and harassment can have serious consequences for both employees and employers. As an employer in Ontario, it is your responsibility to ensure that your employees are working in a safe and respectful environment, free from harassment and bullying. Part of this response involves creating a workplace harassment policy.

If you need assistance creating a policy that combats workplace harassment and bullying, contact Peninsula for help. We help employers comply with provincial legislation and advise them on how to apply this to their workplace. Contact us today at 1 (833) 247-3652.