By: Hasti Namvar

Whether you have a part-time or full-time job, your workplace is supposed to be a safe and healthy environment. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of what workplace harassment constitutes, and as a result, problematic actions and behaviours can go unaddressed. If you feel like you are being harassed at work, it is important to understand what “workplace harassment” is—and more importantly, what you can do about it.

What is workplace harassment?

Workplace harassment is governed by both provincial and federal legislation. In Ontario, an employer must comply with the provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the Human Rights Code.  According to the OHSA, workplace harassment is defined as “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”. Workplace harassment also includes workplace sexual harassment. It is important to note that harassment does not need to be sexual in nature to constitute as ‘workplace harassment’ under the provisions of the OHSA. A more in-depth definition of ‘workplace sexual harassment’ is provided in the definitions section of the OHSA.

What are some examples of workplace harassment?

A variety of behaviours and actions can constitute as workplace harassment. However, it is important to note that every incident is assessed on a case-by-case basis by the courts and mediators. Given the extremely context-dependent nature of such claims, it is important to remember that certain behaviours may constitute workplace harassment in one case but not in another. Nevertheless, some examples of conduct that courts have found to constitute as workplace harassment include:

–        Being yelled at;

–        Being subject to verbal profanities;

–        Being touched inappropriately;

–        Being subject to inappropriate comments, such as comments of a sexual nature, comments on one’s appearance, race, and/or religion;

–        Being exposed to lewd imagery.

This is not an exhaustive list of examples. There is a wide range of conduct not captured by this list that may be considered workplace harassment. The definition of “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” guides any assessment of whether workplace harassment is occurring.

What can I do if I’m being harassed? 

If you feel as though you are being harassed, or are working in a hostile environment, it is important to take actions to remedy this concern. Whether that be speaking to a supervisor or contacting a lawyer to discuss the merits of your claim, it is important that you understand that you have a right to not be subject to workplace harassment.

If you plan on bringing a claim against your employer for workplace harassment, try and ensure that you retain any evidence of the incident(s) in order to further establish your claims. Although video and recorded evidence is not always required for a claim of workplace harassment to be successful, it does certainly help. 

If you are successful in establishing that you were subject to workplace harassment, the courts will effectively find the employment relationship to have been ‘constructively terminated’. This essentially means that your employer, by subjecting you to workplace harassment, broke an implied term in your employment contract that ensures that employees will be working in safe and healthy work environments. Termination compensation damages will be awarded in such cases.