Workplace harassment can poison a victim’s work environment. This is why it is important, not only for victims to report harassment but also for there to be confidence in the corrective measures in place. Knowing how to identify harassment and the corrective measures available are important factors in stopping harassment from continuing.
Harassment under Ontario’s Occupation Health and Safety Act (OHSA) may include bullying, repeated intimidation, offensive jokes, or sexual harassment. With regards to sexual harassment, specifically, the act of sexual solicitation or advancements by a superior that is able to grant or deny benefit is also prohibited, where such acts are unwelcome.
The definition under the OHSA is objective, meaning that an individual perpetrating harassment cannot claim to have not known his/her actions constituted harassment as a defence. Secondly, there must be a course of unwelcome conduct, which usually means the action has to happen more than once. Of course, a single severe instance will constitute harassment and trigger an obligation for the employer to investigate the claim.
Internal Mechanisms of Reporting:
Methods to report harassment in the workplace should be highlighted in the workplace’s anti-harassment policy. Once reported, an employer must investigate.
During the investigation, the victim’s identity may only be disclosed if it is necessary for the purpose of investigation. Once the investigation concludes, the victim must be given a statement by the employer, explaining the corrective measures that resulted from the investigation.
External Mechanism of Reporting:
Victims of harassment that have not been corrected by an employer may claim constructive dismissal. This would require an employee to quit and then argue that he/she was left with no choice but to leave their job. If successful, this would entitle the individual to a common law severance package (notice pay).
Since harassment can often intersect with protected grounds of discrimination under human rights law, victims may opt to seek remedies through the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Such instances may include harassment along the lines of sex, religion, disability and gender identity.
Overall, if internal mechanisms for addressing workplace harassment have failed, it is advisable to seek advice from an employment lawyer so that the best external option is pursued.