If you are an employer in Ontario, it is important to be aware that violence or harassment could happen at your business' workplace. As stated under the Ontario Human Rights Code, you must prevent and stop violence and harassment as an employer.

In addition to having detrimental psychological and physical effects on your employees, violence and harassment can be costly — possibly causing your employees to lose productivity. They may also miss work and result in increased Workplace Safety and Insurance Board costs, increased health care expenses, and legal consequences.

Workplace harassment, 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" could include:

  • Sexual harassment, including leering, unwelcome gifts or attention
  • Inappropriate or offensive comments, jokes or innuendos
  • Display or circulation of offensive pictures or materials
  • Unwelcome, offensive, or intimidating phone calls
  • Degrading comments, bullying, threats and intimidation
  • Offensive gestures
  • Spreading rumours
  • Unwanted touching of a sexual nature

Workplace violence is defined as:

  • An exercise of physical force by a person against a worker that causes or could cause physical injury
  • An attempt to exercise physical force against a worker that could cause physical injury to the worker
  • A statement or behaviour that is reasonable for a worker to interpret as a threat to exercise physical force against the worker that could cause physical injury to the worker

Violence in the workplace can include but is not limited to physical or sexual assault, stalking, criminal harassment, robbery and threats of violence.

Under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, you are required to prepare a policy regarding workplace harassment, and develop and maintain a program to implement that policy. The program must include measures and procedures that allow workers to report incidents of workplace harassment, and explain how you will investigate and deal with incidents and complaints of workplace harassment. You must also provide information and instruction to workers about the contents of the policy and program.

To help you comply with these requirements, the Ontario Ministry of Labour has published a guide for employers on developing workplace policies and programs to address violence and harassment. For more information on how to provide a safe and respectful workplace for your employees, visit our Managing your employees section.