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Every individual deserves to work in a safe environment free from bullying and harassment. However, despite regulations and policies in place, instances of workplace mistreatment still occur. When faced with such adversity, understanding one’s employment rights becomes crucial. In this blog, we discuss the legal framework surrounding bullying and harassment in the workplace.

Defining Bullying and Harassment

  • Bullying: Bullying is seen as acts or verbal comments that could psychologically or mentally hurt or isolate a person in the workplace. This includes behaviour that intimidates, offends, degrades or humiliates an individual, possibly in front of co-workers, clients, or customers. It is often described as the assertion of power through aggression. Bullies can be supervisors, subordinates, co-workers, and colleagues.
  • Harassment: Harassment is defined as engaging in a course of vexatious remarks or conduct against an employee in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome and includes workplace sexual harassment.

What might not be considered bullying?

Determining whether bullying is occurring in the workplace can be challenging at times. Bullying can be extremely subtle at first, but after a pattern of behaviour is formed, it may become more evident.

Furthermore, several studies acknowledge that there is a “fine line” that separates bullying and strict management. Objective comments meant to offer constructive criticism are typically not construed as bullying; rather, they are meant to support the worker in their job.

Bullying and harassing behaviour does not include:

  • Voicing differences of opinion
  • Offering constructive feedback, guidance, or advice about work related behaviour
  • Reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor in connection to the management of employees or the workplace (e.g., managing an employee’s performance, taking reasonable disciplinary actions, assigning work).

What can an employer do?

Management commitment is the most crucial element of any workplace prevention program. Employers play a pivotal role in preventing and addressing workplace bullying and harassment. Any harassment that occurs in the workplace is the responsibility of the employer, who must take appropriate action against any employee who harasses another individual. They are legally obligated to:

  1. Develop Policies and Procedures: Written policies are the most effective way of conveying management commitment. Establish clear and thorough policies outlining expectations regarding behaviour, procedures on how issues should be reported, and consequences for perpetrators.
  2. Provide Training: Educate employees on their rights and obligations, identify indicators of harassment and bully, and promote an inclusive and respectful work environment.
  3. Investigate Complaints: Investigate all claims of harassment and bullying, ensuring confidentiality and procedural fairness throughout the process.
  4. Take Corrective Action: If allegations are proven to be true, take appropriate disciplinary action against all perpetrators and provide support to victims to mitigate the effects of the misconduct.

What are my rights as an employee?

  1. Internal reporting: Follow the employer’s established procedures for reporting incidents of bullying and harassment. To aid in the investigation process, document details of the incident, including date, times, witnesses, and any communication (e.g., emails, texts) related to the misconduct.
  2. Union Representation: If you are a member of a union, seek assistance from union representatives who can advocate on your behalf to ensure your rights are upheld during the complaint process.
  3. Human Rights Complaints: In the event that bullying, or harassment is predicated on a characteristic that is protected by human rights legislation, file a complaint to the appropriate human rights commission or tribunal. An experienced employment lawyer can assist with filing a human rights claim.
  4. Legal Action: In cases of severe or ongoing mistreatment, you may consider consulting with an employment lawyer to explore alternative legal options, such as filing a civil claim for damages.

If you report bullying or harassment, the law protects you against punishment from your employers. Employers have an obligation to always treat their employees with dignity and respect. Failure to do so, particularly if the treatment you received causes distress or made it more difficult to get employment, may give you grounds for damages.

Legal Protection Against Bullying and Harassment

Employees in Canada are protected by both federal and provincial legislation against workplace bullying and harassment. Key statutes include:

  1. Canadian Human Rights Act: Prohibits discrimination and harassment based on protected grounds in federally regulated industries such as banking, telecommunications, and transportation. This ensures equal treatment and opportunity for all employees.
  2. Employment Standards Legislation: Every province and territory have its own set of employment standards that establish minimum entitlements, including protections against workplace harassment and bullying.
  3. Occupational Health and Safety Regulations: Require businesses to create a safe work environment free from hazards, including psychological risks such as bullying and harassment. If your employer fails to comply with its duties under the OHSA, the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD) may investigate. For example, if you reported to your employer about harassment at work and the employer failed to ensure an investigation was conducted into your complaint, the MLITSD may investigate whether your employer complied with their obligations under the OHSA.


Experiencing bullying in the workplace can be a stressful and challenging situation. However, employees have rights and protections in place to address workplace bullying. If you find yourself in this situation, it is important to take proactive steps to protect yourself. Review policies and procedures your employer has in place regarding bullying and harassment at work.

Determine if there are designated channels for reporting incidents and adhere to the established procedures. Keep thorough notes of every bullying occurrence. Document specific acts of behaviour or actions that qualify as bullying such as verbal abuse, threats, or unreasonable demands. In some cases, individuals may consider taking legal action if the mistreatment is severe. If the work environment has become unbearable, it is important to contact an employment lawyer.

If you have any questions or require legal assistance, we encourage you to contact, Toronto employment lawyers, Sultan Lawyers, online or call us today at 416-214-5111.