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What can I do if I am being harassed at work?

If someone at work is trying to make you afraid, uncomfortable, or angry, they may be harassing you.

Workplace harassment is a series of comments or actions that the person knows you don't like.

It can also include things they should know that you don’t like, even if you have not told them. For example, they should know not to call you rude names, even if you haven't complained about it.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) says that harassment is usually 2 or more events with the same person. One event is not usually harassment.

Here are some examples of behaviour that could be harassment:

  • making jokes or comments that insult, intimidate, or offend you
  • showing offensive pictures or other materials at work
  • phone calls or emails that scare or offend you
  • sexual behaviour that you don’t want
  • making sexual suggestions
  • doing things to embarrass you
  • saying things that discriminate against you

It does not matter who is harassing you. It could be a client, a customer, a co-worker, an employer, or anyone else at your workplace.

If someone is harassing you at work, your employer must try to protect you.

Harassment that goes against your human rights

All workplace harassment is against the law in the Occupational Health and Safety Act. But some kinds are also against the law in the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Harassment that goes against your human rights is a kind of discrimination. This includes harassment because of:

  • your race, colour, ancestry, ethnic origin, citizenship, or where you were born
  • your religious beliefs
  • a physical or mental disability, including an addiction
  • your sex or gender
  • your sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression

Human rights laws say that employers must not discriminate against you. And if other workers discriminate against you, your employer must take steps to make them stop.

You have different options for dealing with harassment if it goes against your human rights. What if I’m being harassed at work for reasons that go against my human rights? has more information, including:

  • examples of this type of harassment
  • details about steps you can take, including how to make a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
  • where you can get help with making a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

The Ontario Human Rights Code also says that your employer can’t punish you for complaining about harassment.

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Next Steps: 

1. Write down what happened

It's a good idea to write down everything you remember about the harassment.

You could write the information in an email and send it to yourself. That way you have a record of when it happened.

Try to focus on the facts of what happened more than how it made you feel.

Make notes about:

  • the date and time of each event
  • who was there
  • what people said, including who said it
  • what order things happened in
  • any injuries you had
  • any steps you took to try to fix the problem
  • what you told your supervisor and when you told them
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2. Talk to your employer about the harassment

If your workplace is covered by the safety rules in the Occupational Health and Safety Act, your employer must have a workplace harassment policy.

This policy should be made to protect you from workplace harassment.

It should have information about:

  • how to get help quickly if someone is in danger
  • how to report harassment to your employer
  • how your employer will deal with your complaint

Your employer must give you information and training so that you know what to do if you’re being harassed. You should follow the steps in the workplace harassment policy as much as possible.

If possible, you should get legal advice before you talk to your employer about the harassment. A lawyer can look at what happened and tell you if you’ve been harassed and what your rights are.

It's against the law for your employer to punish you for asking about your health and safety rights. But making a complaint about harassment can be difficult.

The Law Society Referral Service can give you the name of a lawyer or paralegal you can consult with for free, for up to 30 minutes.

JusticeNet is a program for Canadians with low or moderate incomes. It connects people with lawyers and paralegals who charge lower legal fees based on your income.

You could also contact the Workers' Health & Safety Legal Clinic, which helps people with low incomes who are having health and safety problems at work.

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3. Find out if you can make a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

Any harassment that goes against your human rights is a kind of discrimination. This includes harassment because of:

  • your race, colour, ancestry, ethnic origin, citizenship, or where you were born
  • your religious beliefs
  • a physical or mental disability, including an addiction
  • your sex or gender
  • your sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression

For this kind of harassment, you can make a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. You can read more about this in What if I'm being harassed at work for reasons that go against my human rights?

You may be able to get help from the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.

The Centre can help you figure out:

  • whether to make a claim with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
  • what might help you prove that an employer discriminated against you

The Centre also helps people when they apply to the Tribunal and, in some cases, at the Tribunal.

You can also check out the Centre's online tool Can We Help You? to see if you might be able to make a claim.

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4. Find out about making a complaint to the Ministry of Labour

If your employer isn't following the law or their own harassment policy, you can make a complaint to the Ministry of Labour. You do this by calling the Ministry's Health and Safety Contact Centre at 1-877-202-0008.

You can make your complaint without giving your name. But your employer might still figure out that it was you.

The Ministry of Labour sends an investigator to your workplace. The investigator may talk to you, other workers, or your employer to find out what happened.

The investigator won't make a decision about the harassment that happened to you. They can only look at whether your employer has followed the law.

They decide whether your employer's way of dealing with harassment complaints is good enough. If not, they can order your employer to:

  • make a workplace harassment policy, if they don’t have one
  • post the policy they have
  • change the policy

You can call the Ministry of Labour's Contact Centre at 1-877-202-0008 to make a complaint. You can call them any time. You don't have to talk to your supervisor about the problem first.

Your employer is not allowed to punish you for making a complaint. You don't have to tell the Ministry of Labour your name to make a complaint.

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5. If you had to leave your job because of harassment, get legal advice

If you have to leave your job because of harassment, that may be "constructive dismissal".

"Constructive dismissal" happens when your employer makes a fundamental change to your work situation and you don't agree or accept it. Because of this, your work or your conditions at work change so much that it's like you've been fired.

Your employer has to keep you safe from harassment, just like they have to pay you for your work. If they don't, then that may be "constructive dismissal".

If you've been fired or if you had to leave your job because of harassment, you should try to get legal advice.

A lawyer with experience in employment law can help by giving you advice about:

The Law Society Referral Service can give you the name of a lawyer or paralegal you can consult with for free, for up to 30 minutes.

JusticeNet is a program for Canadians with low or moderate incomes. It connects people with lawyers and paralegals who charge lower legal fees based on your income.

You could also contact the Workers' Health & Safety Legal Clinic, which helps people with low incomes who are having health and safety problems at work.

If you've been injured or punished by your employer for complaining about harassment, you can also contact the Office of the Worker Adviser. They can give you information and legal advice if you don’t have a union.

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Reviewed: 
October, 2015

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