Preventing Workplace Harassment

Workplace Harassment

There are many questions regarding harassment in the workplace. Below is a brief outline describing what is or isn’t workplace harassment.

What is workplace harassment?

Workplace harassment can involve unwelcome words or actions that are known or should be known to be offensive, embarrassing, humiliating or demeaning to a worker or group of workers, in a workplace. It can also include behaviour that intimidates, isolates or even discriminates against the targeted individual(s).

This may include:

  • making remarks, jokes or innuendos that demean, ridicule, intimidate, or offend;
  • displaying or circulating offensive pictures or materials in print or electronic form;
  • bullying;
  • repeated offensive or intimidating phone calls or e-mails; or
  • workplace sexual harassment.

What isn’t workplace harassment?

A reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the workplace.

Reasonable management actions would be part of a manager’s or supervisor’s normal work function, and could include changes in work assignments, scheduling, job assessment and evaluation, workplace inspections, implementation of health and safety measures, and disciplinary action.

If these actions are not exercised reasonably and fairly they may constitute workplace harassment. For example, if a worker was not scheduled for shifts solely because of his or her sexual orientation, this would likely be workplace harassment.

Differences of opinion or minor disagreements between co-workers would also not generally be considered workplace harassment.


It is important for employers to address any unwanted behaviour early to minimize the potential for workplace harassment which can lead to workplace violence. Employers, therefore, have specific duties with respect to workplace harassment and workplace violence under their provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The harassing person may be someone the worker comes into contact with due to the nature of his or her work. This may include, but is not limited to, a client, customer, volunteer, student, patient, etc.

The harassing person may also be part of the workforce, including a co-worker, manager, supervisor or employer. Or the person may be someone with no formal connection to the workplace such as a stranger or a domestic/intimate partner who brings violence or harassment into the workplace.

In Ontario, it is mandatory per OHSA Bills 132/168 to train your employees on the prevention of Workplace Harassment and Violence.

Click here for an online workplace harassment and violence prevention training program.