Understanding Workplace Harassment

The Ontario Health and Safety Act defines workplace harassment as:

Engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably known to be unwelcome.

What exactly does this definition mean? What types of behaviour is considered harassment in the workplace? How can we prevent harassment and what should we do if we have experienced harassment in the workplace? Below is a complete guide to understanding workplace harassment.

Workplace harassment involves any unwelcome words/actions that are known or should be known to be offensive, embarrassing, humiliating or degrading to a worker or group of workers, in a workplace.

Workplace harassment includes sexual harassment and psychological/personal harassment and can appear in the form of:

  • Making remarks, jokes, or innuendo that demean, ridicule, intimidate, or offend
  • Bullying
  • Displaying or circulating offensive materials/pictures in print or electronic form
  • Repeated offensive or intimidating phone calls or emails

Workplace sexual harassment may include:

  • Rough or vulgar humor or language related to sexuality, sexual orientation or gender
  • Displaying or circulating pornography, sexual images, or offensive sexual jokes in print or electronic form
  • Leering or inappropriate staring
  • Invading personal space
  • Unnecessary physical contact, including inappropriate touching
  • Making gender-related comments about someone’s physical characteristics, mannerisms, or conformity to sex-role stereotypes
  • Verbally abusing, threatening or taunting someone based on gender or sexual orientation
  • Threatening to penalize or otherwise punish a worker if they refuse a sexual advance

How can we prevent workplace harassment:

There are many simple ways to create a safe workplace free of harassment. They include:

  • Conducting ourselves in an appropriate manner within the work environment
  • Being aware of how our actions/words may be interpreted by others
  • Treating our co-workers with respect at all times
  • Identifying instances of workplace harassment and notifying the proper supervisors/management
  • Completing workplace harassment training to properly identify and prevent harassment in the workplace

What can you do if you are a victim of workplace harassment:

Remember to do these things if you feel you have been a victim of harassment at your workplace:

  1. Don’t ignore the harassment
  2. Make it clear to the harasser that the conduct is unwelcome
  3. Keep written notes (including dates and times) of incidents that have occurred
  5. Don’t quit your job – keep doing your job well! This behaviour is not your fault.

What can you do to prevent workplace harassment if you are an employer:

If you are the employer/supervisor/management in your workplace there are steps you can take to ensure your work environment is free of harassment:

  • Have a workplace harassment policy in place as well as a program that outlines how to make a complaint or report an incident of workplace harassment
  • Ensure a proper investigation is conducted into any incident or complaint
  • Be objective and thorough in your investigation
  • Inform all parties in writing of the results of the investigation and any action that will be taken
  • Review workplace harassment policy often
  • Set a leading example for your employers through your day-to-day behaviour
  •  Arrange and support harassment prevention training sessions

We can all work together to prevent harassment in the workplace!


Preventing and Resolving Harassment in the Workplace  – Canada.ca

Understand the law on workplace violence and harassment – Ontario.ca

Harassment and sexual violence in the workplace – Canada.ca

Top 10 Things to do if You are Victim of Workplace Harassment – workharassment.net