It is important to feel safe and respected in the workplace. Legislation like the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) protect Ontario employees by giving them certain rights and employers specific obligations. For example, all employees have the right to work in a safe and harassment-free workplace and employers must investigate reports of harassment.
This blog post will give a brief overview of workplace harassment and information for Ontario employees should their workplace be subject to a workplace investigation relating to harassment. Please keep in mind that this blog post is restricted to Ontario employees.
Workplace Harassment Defined
Workplace harassment is defined as engaging in a course of vexatious comments or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known, or ought reasonably to be known, to be unwelcome. Such harassment can look like:
Unwanted physical contact, assault, or other physical actions that cause harm or fear.
Name-calling, insults, and offensive comments, including those related to gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or other protected characteristics.
Repeated behaviour or comments that undermine an employee’s confidence or self-esteem, such as yelling, belittling, or intimidation.
Any unwanted sexual behaviour, advances, or requests, including comments, gestures, or physical contact.
If an employee reports harassment, the employer must, as a part of their duty, investigate the complaint. The purpose of the investigation is to determine if the reported behaviour meets the definition of harassment. If harassment is found, appropriate actions must be taken.
The following are some key factors to keep in mind during a workplace investigation:
- The Employer’s Duty to Investigate
Employers have a legal obligation to investigate any complaints of harassment or discrimination in the workplace. This investigation must be prompt, thorough, and impartial. Your employer cannot ignore your complaint or dismiss it without investigation.
During a workplace investigation, confidentiality is important. The investigator should only disclose information on a need-to-know basis. This includes limiting who is involved in the investigation and ensuring that any documentation or records related to the investigation are kept secure and confidential.
- Protection from Retaliation
An employer cannot take any action against an employee, such as firing or demoting them for making a complaint or participating in an investigation. If an employee makes a complaint or participates in a workplace investigation related to harassment or discrimination, they are protected from retaliation under the law.
- The Right to Legal Representation
Employees have the right to seek legal representation during a workplace investigation. This can include hiring a lawyer or union representative to assist with the investigation and protect their interests. We encourage you to seek employment counsel if you have concerns in relation to a pending or concluded investigation.
- No Active Role in Investigation
While an employee has the right to participate and provide information during a workplace investigation. it is important to remember that they do not have an active role in the investigation. The investigator conducts an independent investigation and while information given from employees is often useful, the investigator’s determination on the occurrence of harassment is based on a variety of factors. Usually, the investigator is a third party hired by the employer to help maintain impartiality.
In conclusion, as an employee in Ontario, it’s important to know and understand your rights during workplace investigations related to harassment or discrimination. Employers have a legal obligation to investigate complaints and maintain confidentiality. Employees are protected from retaliation and have the right to legal representation during the investigation process.
If you are an individual seeking advice during a workplace investigation, we encourage you to reach out to employment lawyers, Sultan Lawyers, for a free call back or flat rate consultation. If you are an employer, Sultan Lawyers provides comprehensive workplace investigation support to employers. We recommend an introductory call which can be scheduled to discuss the related details and our services. Please contact Sultan Lawyers, at 416-214-5111 or via email at email@example.com.
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