Workplace harassment is never acceptable, yet happens all too often. According to a 2014 Angus Reid Survey, 43% of Canadian women and 12% of men reported that they had experienced workplace harassment. That’s over a quarter of all Canadians!

Every employer in Ontario has a legal duty to provide employees with a workplace that is free from harassment. In Ontario, roles and responsibilities are governed by the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Human Rights Code.

Ontario workplaces with six employees or more are required by law to have a written workplace harassment policy in place. Unfortunately, all too often, claims of harassment are not taken seriously. The same Angus Reid survey that we quoted above found that 25% of those reporting harassment to their employer found management “unresponsive and dismissive”.

What is workplace harassment?

But what exactly is workplace harassment? According to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, harassment occurs when someone makes unwelcome comments or physical contact or engages in threatening or intimidating behaviour. While harassment is generally a behaviour that occurs and persists over time, one-time incidents of a serious nature can also be harassment.

Some examples of workplace harassment include:

  • Humiliating, degrading or insulting comments, pictures, objects or actions
  • Unwelcome physical contact
  • Sexual demands
  • Sexually suggestive comments
  • Sexual violence

How to recognize workplace harassment

Harassment isn’t always black and white. Not all offensive behaviour is harassment. Rule of thumb seems to be whether the harasser should have known their behaviour was unwelcome.

For instance, an isolated incident of a offensive remark or a pat on the back is probably not going to be classified as harassment. Further, normal management duties (such as providing constructive criticism or warranted disciplinary action) are generally not considered harassment (read more about that here).

Not sure if you are being harassed? You might want to consult with an employment lawyer. Check out Kabuk Law to find the best employment lawyer for your needs.

What to do if you think you are being harassed at work

Here are some steps to take if you believe workplace harassment has occurred:

  1. Let the perpetrator know that the behaviour in question is unwelcome.
  2. Keep a record of all unwelcome incidences (dates, times, details, etc).
  3. If you feel unsafe, or if a criminal harassment offense has occurred, you should contact the police immediately.
  4. Get a copy of your work’s anti-harassment policy and report the incident according to the protocol laid out in your workplace’s anti-harassment policy. This is often the human resources department.
  5. You have the option to file a discrimination complaint to the human rights tribunal. This can be a good option for those who feel they cannot report the incident, or in cases where your claims of harassment have not been taken seriously.
  6. You might also want to consult with a lawyer to talk about your legal rights and options and to potentially pursue legal action.

Looking for more information on workplace harassment and employment law in Canada? We can help! Use Kabuk to find employment lawyers and book an appointment with the best employment lawyer for your needs. It’s free to use!

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