You have the right as an employee to work in an environment that is free from harassment. If you think you are or have been a victim of workplace harassment, it is important to understand your rights as well as your employer’s obligations under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).
What Is Workplace Harassment?
Workplace harassment occurs when someone engages in unwelcome conduct against another person in the workplace. Workplace harassment may include but is certainly not limited to things like offensive comments, bullying, aggressive behaviour, inappropriate staring, sexual harassment, or making fun of someone based on their race, religion, age, ethnicity, disability, gender or gender identity.
What Should You Do If You Are Harassed at Work?
The first thing you should do is document the behaviour with dates, times and locations. Also, note whether anyone else was present who can verify your accounting of the situation. Then, immediately tell your supervisor or HR representative if you don’t feel safe telling your supervisor (or if your supervisor is the one engaging in the harassment). If you are in a union, you should also call your union representative.
Your employer has legal obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to have a written harassment policy, and they are to abide by provincial guidelines on handling harassment accusations at work. Those obligations include an appropriate investigation of the situation. If your employer does not comply with its obligations, the Ministry of Labour may be brought in to investigate this lack of compliance.
It is important to remember that if you are disciplined, suspended or threatened for exercising your rights as defined by the OHSA; you may file a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board or, if applicable, you may contact your union.
Other Resources for Seeking Help
Depending on the type and severity of the harassment, you may have other outlets to turn to, as well. These include:
- The police: If you have been a victim of assault, sexual assault or stalking, call the police immediately.
- Employee assistance program: Some larger employers have a designated person or team you can contact for confidential support.
- Human Rights Legal Support Centre: Ontario’s Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination and harassment based on protected grounds like race, ethnicity, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion and family status. They can provide legal advice and support to victims.
- Law Society Referral Service: This service can connect you to a lawyer or paralegal who will spend 30 minutes with you to discuss potential options at no charge.
- Assaulted Women’s Helpline: The Assaulted Women’s Helpline offers 24-hour telephone service to provide counselling, emotional support, information and referrals to women who have experienced abuse.
Do You Need To Find a New Job?
Workplace harassment should always be reported and dealt with, but it’s often healthiest for victims to ultimately seek new opportunities at companies that are free from harassment. If you are looking for a new job in Ontario, partner with the recruiters of Employment Professionals Canada. Browse our current job openings, or contact us online or call 1-800-842-0421 to learn more.