Workplace Harassment Policy

General information

Having a policy addressing workplace harassment promotes a working environment of dignity and respect and helps keep Ontario’s workplaces healthy and safe.

All workers should know what workplace harassment is and how to report it. Employers should encourage workers to report workplace harassment so that appropriate action can be taken to stop unwelcome conduct.

An employer is required to prepare a workplace harassment policy under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). In addition to including the definition of workplace harassment as defined by the OHSA in its policy, an employer may include the following behaviours as examples of workplace harassment:

  • offensive or intimidating comments or jokes;
  • bullying or aggressive behaviour;
  • displaying or circulating offensive pictures or materials;
  • inappropriate staring;
  • workplace sexual harassment;
  • isolating or making fun of a worker because of gender identity.

Workplace sexual harassment includes unwelcome solicitation or advances from a manager, supervisor or another person who has the power to reward or punish the worker.

Employers may choose to prepare a separate policy regarding workplace harassment or they may combine it with a workplace violence policy [section 32.0.1(1)(a) of OHSA] or the occupational health and safety policy [section 25(2)(j) of OHSA]. An employer may also choose to combine its workplace harassment policy with an anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy that addresses the protected grounds under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

Practice

To comply with this Part of the Code of Practice, all components contained in the Practice below must be met regardless of whether the employer combines policies or not.

An employer is required to prepare a policy with respect to workplace harassment.

The workplace harassment policy must be:

  1. Prepared in writing by the employer.
  2. Posted in a conspicuous place in the workplace where it would be likely to come to workers’ attention.
  3. Reviewed by the employer as often as necessary, but at least annually.
  4. Dated and signed by the highest level of management of the employer or at the workplace (e.g. President, CEO, Senior Human Resources Professional or uppermost member of management at the workplace).

The workplace harassment policy, at a minimum, must contain the following seven elements:

  1. A statement(s) demonstrating the employer’s commitment to addressing workplace harassment.
  2. The OHSA workplace harassment definition as set out below:

    “workplace harassment” means,
    • (a) 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, or
    • (b) workplace sexual harassment;
    “workplace sexual harassment” means,
    • (a) engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, where the course of comment or conduct is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome, or
    • (b) making a sexual solicitation or advance where the person making the solicitation or advance is in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the worker and the person knows or ought reasonably to know that the solicitation or advance is unwelcome;
    Subsection 1 (4) A reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the workplace is not workplace harassment.
  3. A statement indicating the policy applies to all workers and that it addresses workplace harassment from all sources such as customers, clients, employers, supervisors, workers and members of the public.
  4. A statement encouraging workers to report workplace harassment to the appropriate person.
  5. A statement the employer will investigate and deal with all complaints or incidents of workplace harassment in a fair and timely manner. The policy must specify that information about a complaint or incident will not be disclosed except to the extent necessary to protect workers, to investigate the complaint or incident, to take corrective action or as otherwise required by law.
  6. A statement that a worker is not to be penalized for reporting an incident or participating in a workplace harassment investigation. Penalizing a worker for exercising their rights under the OHSA is prohibited.
  7. Information about other resources for a worker to seek help to address workplace harassment (e.g. union representative, joint health and safety committee member or health and safety representative, Human Rights Legal Support Centre or employee assistance program, as appropriate).

An employer must develop and maintain a written workplace harassment program to implement the workplace harassment policy under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). If there is a joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative at the workplace as required under the OHSA, the employer must consult with the committee or representative about the program.

The OHSA requires that the workplace harassment program include information about how to report incidents of workplace harassment to the employer or supervisor and to a person other than the employer or supervisor, if the employer or supervisor is the alleged harasser. Employers may also want to encourage workers to report concerns if the worker witnesses another worker being harassed.

The person who receives a workplace harassment complaint should not be under the alleged harasser’s direct control. In a larger organization, the person who receives a complaint of workplace harassment may be a supervisor, human resource representative or the president so long as they are not the alleged harasser or under the direct control of the alleged harasser. The program requires an alternate person to be designated to receive a complaint or be notified of an incident if the employer or supervisor is the alleged harasser. A member of the board of directors, a consultant or another person may be considered to receive employer or supervisor related complaints of workplace harassment. Overall, it is important for workers to be able to report workplace harassment to a person who will objectively address the complaint.

The program should set out whether this person would only receive the complaint, or whether this person would be expected to carry out an investigation.

If workplace harassment is found to have occurred at the workplace, the employer may also want to set out in detail the ways in which it will address workplace harassment. Where the harassment arises from customers, clients, patients, or the public towards a worker, the employer could deal with the incident of workplace harassment by modifying its service (such as using the telephone or email as the primary means of contact), or even, in some cases, a refusal of service depending upon the circumstances.

Where the investigation finds that harassment arises from a worker, supervisor, or other person associated with the workplace, there can be consequences for the individual (such as apologies, education, counseling, shift changes, reprimands, suspension, job transfer, or termination) depending on the employer’s policy, the nature or severity of the behaviour and the circumstances. Actions may also be broader, especially where the investigation of an incident or complaint shows that workplace harassment is prevalent or commonplace. An example of action taken could be training for everyone in the workplace or in a department on what is unacceptable behaviour in the workplace.

The employer in the workplace harassment program may also want to address the role of other workplace parties. In a unionized workplace, the collective agreement may address the role of the union during an investigation.

It is also the employer’s duty to consult with the joint health and safety committee or the health and safety representative (if any) as the employer develops and maintains the workplace harassment program.

Provision(s)

Occupational Health and Safety Act, s. 32.0.6 (1) and (2),

  • (1) An employer shall, in consultation with the committee or a health and safety representative, if any, develop and maintain a written program to implement the policy with respect to workplace harassment required under clause 32.0.1. (1) (b).
  • (2) Without limiting the generality of subsection (1), the program shall,
    • (a) include measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment to the employer or supervisor;
    • (b) include measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment to a person other than the employer or supervisor, if the employer or supervisor is the alleged harasser;
    • (c) set out how incidents or complaints of workplace harassment will be investigated and dealt with;
    • (d) set out how information obtained about an incident or complaint of workplace harassment, including identifying information about any individuals involved, will not be disclosed unless the disclosure is necessary for the purposes of investigating or taking corrective action with respect to the incident or complaint, or is otherwise required by law;
    • (e) set out how a worker who has allegedly experienced workplace harassment and the alleged harasser, if he or she is a worker of the employer, will be informed of the results of the investigation and of any corrective action that has been taken or that will be taken as a result of the investigation; and
    • (f) include any prescribed elements.

Practice

To comply with this Part of the Code of Practice, the Workplace Harassment Program must be in writing and include all components in the Practice below. It must be developed and maintained in consultation with the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative (if one is present in the workplace).

The workplace harassment program must be in writing.

The workplace harassment program must include all of the following:

Reporting

  1. Measures and procedures for workers to report workplace harassment to the employer or supervisor, including specific individual(s) or position(s) so that it is clear to whom workers should report or file a complaint of workplace harassment.
  2. Measures and procedures for workers to report workplace harassment to a person other than the employer or supervisor, if the employer or supervisor is the alleged harasser, so that it is clear to whom workers should report incidents of workplace harassment.
    • If the alleged harasser is a supervisor, the designated person may be a human resources representative, a department responsible for handling workplace harassment complaints, a health and safety consultant or other person designated by the employer.
    • If the employer is the alleged harasser, the employer must designate a person who is not under the direct control of the alleged harasser.
  3. The report of the incident must include the following information:
    • Name(s) of the complainant(s) and contact information
    • Name of the alleged harasser(s), position and contact information (if known)
    • Names of the witness(es) (if any) or other person(s) with relevant information to provide about the incident (if any) and contact information (if known)
    • Details of what happened including date(s), frequency and location(s) of the alleged incident(s)
      • Any supporting documents the worker who complains of harassment may have in his/her possession that are relevant to the complaint
      • List any documents a witness, another person or the alleged harasser may have in their possession that are relevant to the complaint.

Investigation and handling of a complaint

The program must indicate:

  1. The employer will ensure that an investigation appropriate in the circumstances will be conducted into complaints or incidents of workplace harassment.
  2. How an incident or complaint of workplace harassment will be investigated and dealt with including any interim measures and corrective action(s) that may be taken while the complaint or incident is being investigated.
  3. How an incident or complaint will be kept confidential to the extent possible. Information obtained about an incident or complaint of workplace harassment, including identifying information about any individuals involved, will not be disclosed unless disclosure is necessary to protect workers, to investigate the complaint or incident, to take corrective action or otherwise as required by law.
  4. While the investigation is on-going, the worker who has allegedly experienced harassment, the alleged harasser(s) and any witnesses will be instructed not to discuss the complaint, incident or the investigation with other workers or witnesses unless necessary to obtain advice about their rights.
  5. A worker who has allegedly experienced harassment and the alleged harasser, if they are a worker of the employer, will be informed in writing of the results of the investigation and any corrective action that has been taken or that will be taken.
  6. When an external person will be retained to conduct a workplace harassment investigation (for example, but not limited to, when the alleged harasser is a president, owner, high-level management or senior executive).

Record keeping

  1. The program must indicate how the employer will keep records of all complaints or incidents of workplace harassment including:
    1. a copy of the complaint or details about the incident;
    2. a record of the investigation including notes;
    3. copy of witness statements, if taken;
    4. a copy of the investigation report, if any;
    5. a copy of the results of the investigation that were provided to the worker who reported workplace harassment and the alleged harasser; and
    6. a copy of any corrective action taken to address the complaint or incident of workplace harassment.
  2. The documents associated with a workplace harassment complaint, incident and/or investigation must not be disclosed unless necessary to investigate an incident or complaint of workplace harassment, take corrective action or otherwise as required by law.
  3. For the OHSA purposes, records must be kept for at least one year from the conclusion of the investigation.

Duty to consult with the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative

The employer must develop and maintain the written workplace harassment program in consultation with the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative (if any).

The consultation must provide an opportunity for the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative (if any) to provide feedback, whether orally or in writing, on the program and the feedback must be considered by the employer.

Appropriate investigation

An employer must ensure an investigation appropriate in the circumstances is conducted when:

  1. the employer or a supervisor becomes aware of an incident of workplace harassment by the worker who allegedly experienced it or another worker; or
  2. a complaint, whether in writing or verbal, of workplace harassment is made to the employer, supervisor or the employer’s designated person.

An investigation must be completed within 90 calendar days or less unless there are extenuating circumstances warranting a longer investigation (e.g. more than five witnesses, key witness unavailable due to illness).

The supervisor, manager or person conducting the investigation must not be the alleged harasser and must not be under the direct control of the alleged harasser. The person must be able to conduct an objective investigation. The supervisor, manager or designated person conducting the investigation on behalf of the employer must, at a minimum, complete the following seven steps to an investigation:

  1. The investigator must ensure the investigation is kept confidential and identifying information is not disclosed unless necessary to conduct the investigation or as required by law. The investigator must remind the worker who allegedly experienced workplace harassment, the alleged harasser(s) and any witnesses of any confidentiality requirements under the employer’s workplace harassment program.
  2. The investigator must thoroughly interview both the worker who has allegedly experienced workplace harassment and the alleged harasser(s), if the alleged harasser(s) is a worker of the employer. If the alleged harasser is not a worker of the employer, the investigator must make reasonable efforts to interview the alleged harasser, if the alleged harasser is known to the employer.
  3. The alleged harasser(s) must be given the opportunity to respond to the specific allegations raised by the worker. In some circumstances, the worker who has allegedly experienced workplace harassment should be given a reasonable opportunity to reply.
  4. The investigator must separately interview any relevant witnesses employed by the employer who may be identified by either the worker who has allegedly experienced workplace harassment, the alleged harasser(s) or as necessary to conduct a thorough investigation. The investigator must make reasonable efforts to interview any relevant witnesses who are not employed by the employer if there are any identified by either the worker who has allegedly experienced workplace harassment, the alleged harasser(s) or as necessary to conduct a thorough investigation.
  5. The investigator must collect and review any relevant documents.
  6. The investigator must take appropriate notes and statements during interviews with the worker who has allegedly experienced workplace harassment, the alleged harasser and any witnesses.
  7. The investigator must prepare a written report summarizing the steps taken during the investigation, the complaint, the allegations of the worker claiming harassment, the response from the alleged harasser, the evidence of any witnesses and the evidence gathered. The report must set out findings of fact and come to a conclusion about whether workplace harassment was found or not. The report must be provided to the employer, supervisor or designated person to take appropriate action.

Results of the investigation

The employer must ensure that the results of the investigation and any corrective action are provided to the worker who allegedly experienced workplace harassment and the alleged harasser, if they are a worker of the employer, in writing.

The results of the investigation are not the same as the investigation report. The results of the investigation are a summary of the findings of the investigation. The results must be communicated in writing within ten (10) calendar days of the investigation being concluded to the worker who has experienced the alleged harassment.

The employer must also ensure that any corrective action taken, if any (or to be taken) is communicated to the worker who allegedly experienced workplace harassment and the alleged harasser(s), if the alleged harasser is a worker of the employer. The amount of information provided about the corrective action will depend on the circumstances but must indicate what steps the employer has taken or will take to prevent a similar incident of workplace harassment if workplace harassment was found. The corrective action, if any, must be communicated in writing within ten (10) calendar days of the investigation being concluded.

Review the workplace harassment program

The employer must ensure its workplace harassment program is reviewed annually or when any gaps or deficiencies in its program are identified as a result of an investigation.

Providing information and instruction to workers on the employer’s workplace harassment policy and program, including how to report workplace harassment, is an important step to help protect workers.

The employer must provide information and instruction on what conduct is considered workplace harassment, including workplace sexual harassment. Providing training assists workers in knowing what conduct is unwelcome in the workplace.

Supervisors also need to receive specific instruction and information on how to recognize and handle a workplace harassment incident so that workplace harassment does not go unaddressed. Workplace harassment that is not addressed may escalate into workplace violence.

Documentation of the information and instruction provided to workers should be kept by the employer for at least one year.

Provision(s)

Occupational Health and Safety Act, s. 32.0.8

An employer shall provide a worker with,

  • (a) information and instruction that is appropriate for the worker on the contents of the policy and program with respect to workplace harassment;

Practice

To comply with this Part of the Code of Practice, an employer must provide all workers with information and instruction on the contents of the employer’s workplace harassment policy and program. Workers must be instructed on:

  • what conduct is considered workplace harassment, including workplace sexual harassment, and how to recognize it;
  • how and to whom to report an incident of workplace harassment;
  • how the employer will investigate and deal with an incident or complaint of workplace harassment; and
  • how the employer will report the results of the investigation to the worker who allegedly experienced workplace harassment and the alleged harasser, if the alleged harasser is a worker of the employer.

All workers, as defined by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), must be provided with information and instruction on the contents of the employer’s workplace harassment policy and program including, but not limited to, regular workers, new hires, contract, casual, temporary, part-time and student workers.

If there are substantial changes to the policy or program, the employer must ensure that workers are informed of the changes and instruction must be provided.

Workers must receive information and instruction in a manner and language that they would reasonably understand.

Supervisors and managers must be provided with additional information and instruction, on how to recognize workplace harassment and how to handle a complaint of workplace harassment.

Investigators whether a manager, supervisor, human resource representative or a person designated by the employer, must receive information and instruction on how to conduct an investigation appropriate in the circumstances, including not to disclose identifying information unless it is necessary to conduct the investigation, take corrective action or otherwise required by law.

Joint health and safety committee or health and safety representatives (if any) must receive information and instruction on the employer’s workplace harassment program including how to help a worker report an incident of workplace harassment and resources available to a worker who has allegedly experienced harassment.

Definition

Section 1 (1):

“workplace harassment” means,

  • (a) 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, or
  • (b) workplace sexual harassment;

“workplace sexual harassment” means,

  • (a) engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, where the course of comment or conduct is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome, or
  • (b) making a sexual solicitation or advance where the person making the solicitation or advance is in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the worker and the person knows or ought reasonably to know that the solicitation or advance is unwelcome;

(4) A reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the workplace is not workplace harassment.

Policy

32.0.1 (1) An employer shall,

  • (b) prepare a policy with respect to workplace harassment; and
  • (c) review the policies as often as is necessary, but at least annually.

(2) The policies shall be in written form and shall be posted at a conspicuous place in the workplace.

(3) Subsection (2) does not apply if the number of workers regularly employed at the workplace is five or fewer, unless an inspector orders otherwise.

Program, harassment

32.0.6 (1) An employer shall, in consultation with the committee or a health and safety representative, if any, develop and maintain a written program to implement the policy with respect to workplace harassment required under clause 32.0.1 (1) (b).

  • (2) Without limiting the generality of subsection (1), the program shall,
    • (a) include measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment to the employer or supervisor;
    • (b) include measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment to a person other than the employer or supervisor, if the employer or supervisor is the alleged harasser;
    • (c) set out how incidents or complaints of workplace harassment will be investigated and dealt with;
    • (d) set out how information obtained about an incident or complaint of workplace harassment, including identifying information about any individuals involved, will not be disclosed unless the disclosure is necessary for the purposes of investigating or taking corrective action with respect to the incident or complaint, or is otherwise required by law;
    • (e) set out how a worker who has allegedly experienced workplace harassment and the alleged harasser, if he or she is a worker of the employer, will be informed of the results of the investigation and of any corrective action that has been taken or that will be taken as a result of the investigation; and
    • (f) include any prescribed elements.

Employer duties

32.0.7 (1) To protect a worker from workplace harassment, an employer shall ensure that,

  • (a) an investigation is conducted into incidents and complaints of workplace harassment that is appropriate in the circumstances;
  • (b) the worker who has allegedly experienced workplace harassment and the alleged harasser, if he or she is a worker of the employer, are informed in writing of the results of the investigation and of any corrective action that has been taken or that will be taken as a result of the investigation;
  • (c) the program developed under section 32.0.6 is reviewed as often as necessary, but at least annually, to ensure that it adequately implements the policy with respect to workplace harassment required under clause 32.0.1 (1) (b); and
  • (d) such other duties as may be prescribed are carried out.

Results of investigation not a report

(2) The results of an investigation under clause (1) (a), and any report created in the course of or for the purposes of the investigation, are not a report respecting occupational health and safety for the purposes of subsection 25 (2).

Information and instruction, harassment

32.0.8 An employer shall provide a worker with,

  • (a) information and instruction that is appropriate for the worker on the contents of the policy and program with respect to workplace harassment; and
  • (b) any other prescribed information.

Order for workplace harassment investigation

55.3 (1) An inspector may in writing order an employer to cause an investigation described in clause 32.0.7 (1) (a) to be conducted, at the expense of the employer, by an impartial person possessing such knowledge, experience or qualifications as are specified by the inspector and to obtain, at the expense of the employer, a written report by that person.

Report

(2) A report described in subsection (1) is not a report respecting occupational health and safety for the purposes of subsection 25 (2).


The above article is an excerpt from the Ontario Ministry of Labour article and may be viewed by following this link:
https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/pubs/harassment/