What is workplace harassment?
Workplace harassment is defined in Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) as "a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. It might include:
Intimidating or offensive jokes
Unwelcome, offensive or intimidating communications
Unwelcome physical contact
Workplace Sexual harassment, including unwelcome sexual advances
Sexist, racist, homophobic or otherwise discriminatory remarks, which could also constitute workplace discrimination
Exposure to offensive media or other content
Workplace harassment usually involves an ongoing course of conduct, but in severe cases just one instance can constitute harassment.
Which laws protect me from workplace harassment?
Your employer has a duty to protect you from harassment and bullying under the OHSA. If the harassment is sexual or otherwise discriminatory in nature, you have further protection under the Human Rights Code. If the harassment is so bad that it makes your workplace intolerable, you may find relief in the law of constructive dismissal .
How do I identify workplace harassment?
Workplace harassment is notoriously missed or overlooked, and deceptively difficult to identify. The harasser often may not recognize that the conduct is unwelcome. If you are suffering from harassment, you may wonder whether your own upset is justified. Even with bystanders present, it is easy for others to minimize the conduct as "just joking around."
Addressing workplace harassment, in most cases, must start with you.
What can I do about workplace harassment?
If you are experiencing workplace harassment, it can be tempting to try to laugh it off or play along. Sometimes, that feels like the path of least resistance. However, if you would like the harassment to stop, the OHSA gives clear instructions on what you can do.
There is no legal cause of action for "workplace harassment" on its own. Instead, your first line of defence for workplace harassment should be your employer. In fact, the OHSA specifically requires your employer to establish a procedure for you to report workplace harassment. The OHSA also stipulates that all complaints must be investigated appropriately.
Despite this, remember that you can always consult a lawyer at any time, especially if you feel unsure of what steps you should take.
What if my employer won't help me?
If your employer fails or refuses to help you, it is time to consider legal action.
If you complain about workplace harassment to your employer and you are fired as a result, this constitutes a "reprisal" under the OHSA. You can make a reprisal complaint to the Ontario Labour Relations Board, which has the power to award you damages for lost wages and even reinstate your employment.
If the workplace harassment is of a discriminatory nature, resulting in a "poisoned" work environment, you may be able to bring a human rights complaint.
Lastly, if the harassment is so severe as to make continued employment intolerable, you may be able to quit and sue your employer for constructive dismissal.
We recommend that you speak to an experienced employment lawyer before taking any of these steps; a qualified lawyer will help you evaluate risk and guide you through the process.
What can Hyde HR Law do for me?
The employment lawyers at Hyde HR Law are experts in identifying, analyzing, and pursuing resolutions to workplace harassment. Our lawyers are considered specialists in the field and have delivered presentations on behalf of employers on the topic. We can advise you on how to fight against workplace harassment, and if so required, vigorously represent you in legal proceedings. Contact us today.