Navigating Workplace Harassment Complaints

Sep 6, 2013

Since 2010 there has been confusion around the term “workplace harassment” in Ontario.

Until that time, workplace harassment was generally limited to sexual, racial and 14 other types of harassment under the Ontario Human Rights Code (Code). For this type of complaint, an employee could file an internal harassment complaint (if the employer had a no-discrimination policy) and/or file a complaint against the employer with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

In 2010 the Occupational Health & Safety Act (OHSA) was amended. Now an employee can file a complaint with her employer if she believes she has been harassed. “Workplace harassment” means engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.

What is an employer to do with harassment complaints?

  1. An employer who employs 6 or more employees must prepare a policy with respect to workplace harassment, develop and maintain a program to implement the policy and post it in the workplace. This program must set out how the employer will investigate and deal with incidents and complaints of workplace harassment
  2.  We recommend that most employers implement a no-discrimination policy which includes an internal complaint process. This, however, is not required by law.
  3. If an employee claims she has been “harassed”, take the complaint seriously and investigate it.
  4. At the onset, determine whether the employee is claiming harassment under the Code, or under OHSA. Then, follow the applicable internal complaint process.
  5. Decide whether to conduct the investigation internally or to retain an outside workplace investigator.

Bottom Line

Employers should concern themselves with the safety and security of their employee’s. Otherwise, a toxic workplace can develop where employees become unproductive and/or sick. All employers (except very small employers) should therefore have a workplace harassment policy under OHSA, and a no-discrimination policy to address potential Code violations. We believe implementing these policies will increase the chance that harassment will be identified and addressed quickly and reduce the chance that the employee will file an external complaint.

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.

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