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In Ontario, workplace harassment includes any unwelcome behaviours, remarks, or gestures that cause an individual to feel frightened or threatened, as defined by the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Ontario Human Rights Code. Whether the harassment comes from a supervisor, co-worker, or client, any behaviour that leaves an employee feeling unsafe or undervalued is illegal and strictly prohibited by law.

What is Mental Harassment?

Mental harassment, also known as psychological harassment or emotional abuse, refers to behaviours that cause psychological harm to an individual. This type of harassment can manifest through a variety of actions, all aimed at undermining the victim’s mental well-being and professional standing. Mental harassment, similar to that mentioned above, can be perpetrated by supervisors, colleagues, or even subordinates, making it a complex issue to address.

Identifying Signs of Mental Harassment:

  • Persistent and Unwanted Behaviour: Mental harassment involves repeated unwelcome and harmful actions, such as constant criticism, belittling comments, jokes, and unrealistic demands.
  • Intimidation and Threats: Actions or words intended to instill fear, insecurity, or anxiety. This can range from overt threats to subtle intimidation tactics.
  • Isolation and Exclusion: Deliberately excluding an individual from meetings, projects, or social gatherings, leading to feelings of isolation and worthlessness.
  • Excessive Monitoring and Micromanagement: Constant scrutinizing of an employee’s work to an unreasonable degree can cause undue stress and pressure.
  • Unreasonable Workloads: Assigning tasks that are unmanageable or setting unattainable deadlines, often with the intent to see the employee fail.
  • Spreading Rumours and Gossip: Sharing false or misleading information about an individual to damage their reputation and relationships within the workplace.

Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”)

According to the OHSA, employers must create a health and safety policy and conduct workplace risk assessments with the involvement of employees and contractors to identify potential hazards.

Additionally, in terms of workplace harassment, the law requires employers to develop and implement a comprehensive harassment prevention policy available to all employees. This policy must clearly explain how to:

  • Report harassment incidents;
  • Investigate harassment claims;
  • Document reports and the investigation process; and
  • Communicate investigation results.

Employers are obligated to thoroughly investigate and address any harassment reports, ensuring all employees are trained on the prevention policy and its procedures. Furthermore, they must support those affected by harassment and take prompt action to stop any bullying behaviour.

Ontario Human Rights Code

While the OHSA lays down the foundation for a workplace free from harassment, the Code provides detailed protections against discrimination. The Code protects employees from discrimination and harassment based on protected characteristics, including:

  • Place of origin
  • Ethnic origin
  • Citizenship
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability
  • Creed
  • Colour
  • Gender expression
  • Gender identity
  • Record of offences
  • Religion
  • Ancestry
  • Marital status
  • Family status
  • Constructive dismissal

While the OHSA addresses harassment broadly, the Code specifically targets harassment that breaches an individual’s human rights. It ensures every employee has the right to fair treatment and a workplace free from discrimination and harassment. Compliance with both the OHSA and the Code is obligatory for Ontario employers, who are legally bound to cultivate an environment where dignity, respect, and safety are upheld for all employees.

Legal Implications and Protections

Mental harassment in the workplace is detrimental to employee well-being and has significant legal implications. Employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment free from all forms of harassment. Failure to address mental harassment behaviours can potentially lead to legal actions, including claims for constructive dismissal (i.e., pushing the employee to resign), emotional distress, and violations of employment standards.

What Should Employers Do?

  • Establish Clear Policies: Develop comprehensive anti-harassment policies that explicitly address mental harassment, detailing what constitutes such behaviour and the consequences for perpetrators.
  • Training and Awareness: Conduct regular training sessions to educate employees and managers about mental harassment, its signs, and how to report it.
  • Reporting Mechanisms: Create safe and confidential channels for employees to report instances of mental harassment without fear of retaliation.
  • Prompt Investigation and Action: Take all reports seriously, conduct thorough investigations, and take appropriate disciplinary action against offenders.
  • Support Systems: Provide access to counselling and support services for employees who have experienced mental harassment.


Where can I make a complaint if I am being bullied at work?

If you are being bullied in the workplace, you have several options for making a formal complaint. The appropriate course of action may depend on your line of work and the company’s structure. Consider the following options:

  • Human Resources Department
  • Management
  • Union Representative
  • Legal Counsel

What options do I have if I am being bullied or harassed at work?

Potential options could include:

Filing a Human Rights application: If the bullying or harassment involves discrimination based on protected characteristics, you can file a human rights complaint.

Filing a Civil Claim: You may be able to pursue a civil lawsuit for damages resulting from the harassment or bullying.


Mental harassment in the workplace is a serious issue that requires attention and action from both employers and employees. By supporting a culture of respect and support, organizations can help prevent mental harassment and ensure a healthy work environment. If you or someone you know is experiencing mental harassment at work, don’t hesitate to seek legal advice.

At Sultan Lawyers, we are committed to protecting your rights and well-being. Contact us today by telephone at 416-214-5111 or online to learn more about how we can assist you in addressing mental harassment and other workplace issues.

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