What Should You Do If You Are Facing Workplace
If you are in a workplace environment where an individual is making you feel afraid, uncomfortable, hurt or angry, you may be experiencing workplace harassment. Both the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the Ontario Human Rights Code define workplace harassment as “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.” This behaviour is generally repetitive, though one very serious incident may also be considered harassment.
Some examples of workplace harassment can include threats, bullying, any form of intimidation, offensive comments and belittling behaviour. It can also include workplace sexual harassment.
Workplace harassment is against the law, as per the Occupational Health and Safety Act in Ontario, but some forms of harassment may also be a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code. The latter category would include harassment that violates human rights through discrimination. Race, religion, ability, sex or gender, or marital status are all protected human rights grounds upon which one cannot be discriminated.
Employers are legally obligated to provide and maintain a harassment-free workplace; this includes taking reasonable precautions to protect their employees in the workplace, as well as taking steps to deal with incidents of harassment that have occurred.
Employers are also required by section 32.0.1 (b) and (c) of the OHSA to prepare and review policy on workplace harassment annually. This should be accompanied by a workplace harassment program that details how to make a complaint or to report an incident, and how those reports will be investigated and addressed.
Steps for Addressing Workplace Harassment
The first step in dealing with workplace harassment is to put together a written record of facts and details of the incident, including when and where you were harassed, what happened, who did it, and the names of any potential witnesses.
You should also make note of any injuries; the chronological order of events; any steps you took to address the issue, and what you told your supervisor, as well as when. This should be followed by you informing your supervisor or manager that you have felt/are feeling harassed at a work. If you are part of a union, you may also contact them.
Your workplace should have a harassment policy and program, about which your employer should have provided information and training – you should try to follow these steps as much as possible.
In addition, if at all possible, you should reach out to an employment lawyer for legal advice before approaching your management, as they would be able to tell you if harassment has occurred and what your rights are in such a case.
Human Rights Discrimination and Issues with Employers
If the harassment you have experienced violates your human rights, you have the right to complain to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. You may look into reaching out to the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, where they can assess if you can make a claim and what may help in proving that you were discriminated against.
If you find your employer is not following their own harassment policy or are in violation of the OHSA in some way, you may also make a complaint to the Ontario Ministry of Labour (through contacting the Ministry’s Health and Safety Contact Centre at 1-877-202-0008). This would involve an investigator coming to your workplace to investigate and evaluate whether the employer has neglected following the law; in the case where they have, they can order your employer to create a workplace harassment policy, post the policy they have, or change it. It should be noted that you cannot be penalized for making such a complaint.
Lastly, if you were pressured to leave your job due to the harassment experienced, this may be a case of “constructive dismissal”. Constructive dismissal occurs where an employer makes a fundamental change to your work situation, and your work and conditions change so much, it is as though you have been fired.
If you have been fired or had to leave your job due to harassment and have experienced a poisoned work environment (a workplace with incidents of harassment that the employer has failed to address or actively participates in), you should look into obtaining legal advice. If such a claim is applicable, you may be able to formally resign and seek termination entitlements.
However, it should be noted that if the courts later find that there was no poisoned work environment, and no constructive dismissal occurred, you may be entitled to nothing
Prior to any form of resignation, any employee that believes that they are enduring a poisoned environment or that they have been constructively dismissed should speak to one of our employment lawyers.
Making a case for constructive dismissal can be complex and is determined on a case-by-case basis. if you require further clarification or assistance with your workplace harassment experience, please do not hesitate to contact us and our specialist Employment Lawyers can discuss your matter in more detail over a free consultation. You can reach our office at 905-366-0202 or contact us through our website here.