Workplace Harassment can occur in many forms and has no place in the workplace. Employees in Ontario have the right to be free from bullying and harassment as described under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) and Human Rights Code (“Code”). Employers and employees should both be well-versed in identifying the many forms of workplace harassment, and they should know how to report them accordingly.
Section 5(1) of the Code states that every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination because of any of the following:
- Ancestry, colour, race
- Ethnic origin
- Place of origin
- Family status
- Marital status (including single status)
- Gender identity, gender expression
- Receipt of public assistance (in housing only)
- Record of offences (in employment only)
- Sex (including pregnancy and breastfeeding)
- Sexual orientation.
What is Considered Workplace Harassment?
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, workplace harassment is defined as “a series of unwelcome comments or conduct against a worker in a workplace that the worker knows or ought to know is unwelcome.” The Ontario Human Rights Code similarly defines harassment as “engaging in a series of unwelcome comments or conduct that the person is targeted knows or ought reasonably to know is unwelcome.” The most common forms of workplace harassment include:
- Verbal Harassment;
- Psychological Harassment;
- Physical Harassment;
- Digital Harassment; and
- Sexual Harassment.
Understanding the types of workplace harassment
- Verbal Harassment
Verbal harassment is a course of conduct that can negatively impact your career, mental health, and overall well-being. This includes demeaning comments or jokes about you or your work, unwanted gestures, and illogical criticism. Harassment based on factors such as your race, religion, or skin colour is especially harmful and violates your right to feel safe and respected in your workplace. The behaviour may or may not be based on grounds under the Code.
- Psychological Harassment
Psychological harassment in the workplace is a common occurrence whereby an individual is subject to mental games designed to harass and demean them. This can manifest in several ways, such as making impossible demands, demeaning someone for something they did not do, taking credit for someone’s hard work, continuously asking an employee to perform a duty that is not in their domain, or continuously opposing someone without a proper reason. The behaviour may or may not be based on grounds under the Code.
- Physical Harassment
There are two types of physical harassment: unwanted physical contacts, such as touching someone’s clothes, hair, face, or any other part of the body that the recipient finds abhorrent; and physical assault, which may result in injuries, loss of property or any other violent act. The behaviour may or may not be based on grounds under the Code.
- Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is one of the most serious workplace harassment issues, not only in Canada but globally. Sexual harassment includes unwanted and inappropriate touches, sexual jokes, gestures, “sexting”, sharing pornography, or asking for sexual favours in exchange for professional favours such as job security, promotions, paid leaves, or other professional favours.
- Digital Harassment (cyberbullying)
Digital harassment is a form of online harassment that takes place over social media channels. It includes posting demeaning comments, memes, or other forms of messages, posting someone’s private videos, creating and using fake IDs to harass someone, and/or making false allegations about someone online. The behaviour may be influenced by ground under the Code.
Why is it Important to Report Workplace Harassment?
Reporting workplace harassment is important to protect victims and improve the organization. Failing to report harassment can allow the harasser to continue their behavior, putting other potential victims at risk and leaving the organization open to legal consequences. If your workplace does not have any formal policies in place to deal with workplace harassment, your report could be a starting point for your employer to create rules and regulations about how to protect their employees.
How To Report Workplace Harassment?
If your workplace has a formal workplace harassment reporting system, you should almost certainly first follow this process. If you have concerns about the appropriateness of the policy, you may want to discuss this with your own legal counsel.
If your organization does not have a specific system, below are some alternative options:
- If the situation does not involve physical harassment, and if you feel comfortable doing so, you could approach the perpetrator in a private manner to see if you can resolve the situation. Safety, however, is a priority in deciding whether this is appropriate.
- If the situation involves physical harassment, you should consider reporting it to the police immediately.
- If the harassment does not stop after you have confronted the perpetrator, you should speak to your manager. If your manager is the one causing the harassment or you feel is not otherwise helpful, you could escalate to Human Recourses, your boss, or an outside party such as legal counsel. If your company does not resolve the issue, you could consider proceeding with legal action.
It is important to note that resisting the harassment or trying to stop the harasser can, in certain circumstances, be more damaging. Further, employees should feel confident in reporting any related incident(s) to their workplace party without fear of repercussions such as being laid off or fired.
Get In Touch With An Employment Expert
If you have questions in relation to any form of workplace harassment, including strategies for resolving the matter(s) in an appropriate manner or if you believe you may have been wrongfully dismissed in connection with harassment, please contact Toronto employment lawyers, Sultan Lawyers at 416-214-5111 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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