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What is workplace harassment?

Region: Ontario Answer # 629

What is workplace harassment?

In human rights and occupational health and safety legislation, workplace harassment is broadly defined. Harassment can take the form of spoken words, gestures, showing offensive pictures, physical contact, or intimidation. It may also include having rumours spread about you at work or online. Harassment generally includes:

  • sexual harassment,
  • teasing,
  • unwelcome, offensive or intimidating phone calls,
  • intimidating or offensive jokes and innuendos,
  • bullying,
  • leering,
  • unwelcome gifts or attention, and
  • offensive gestures.

Workplace harassment is usually a pattern of ongoing behaviour, but can arise from one single incident if it has a severe and lasting impact on you.

Who can experience workplace harassment?

Anyone in the workplace can experience workplace harassment, or be the cause of it, such as co-workers, supervisors and customers. In addition, harassment can be experienced by any employee, regardless of whether the harassment was directed at them.  For example, this can happen if the discriminatory comments or behaviour of others results in a hostile, or intimidating work environment.

Federal employees

As of January 1, 2021, changes to rules relating to workplace violence, harassment, and sexual harassment in federal workplaces have changed. Policies in the federal government’s new Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations, and corresponding changes to the Canada Labour Code have been consolidated and broadened in Part II of the Code. The definition of workplace “violence and harassment” has been expanded to include:

“any action, conduct or comment, including of a sexual nature, that can reasonably be expected to cause offence, humiliation or other physical or psychological injury or illness to an employee.”

As part of the changes, employers working in a federally regulated industry or workplace, should:

  • understand the definition of workplace harassment and violence
  • develop a workplace harassment and violence prevention policy with the policy committee, the workplace committee or health and safety representative
  • assess the risk of workplace harassment and violence
  • conduct employee harassment training to be completed by Jan. 1, 2022.

Visit the Employment and Social Development Canada website for more information.

Get help

You have many options if you are experiencing harassment at work, including: starting a lawsuit in court, filing a grievance, bringing a complaint to a labour board, or filing a complaint with a human rights commission.

A criminal record will appear on an employment police check and will affect your ability to get or keep a job. To erase your criminal record, learn more at Pardon Partners. It’s easier than you think.

If you are involved in an employment dispute and require legal advice and assistance, contact our preferred paralegals Nicola (Nick) Giannantonio Legal Services.


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