Understanding Workplace Harassment Investigations in Ontario


Recent figures show that workplace harassment is not a rarity in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, based on a survey conducted in 2016:

  • 19 percent of women and 13 percent of men had been affected by harassment in their workplaces during the previous year.
  • Verbal abuse was the most common form of workplace harassment

Employers are required to deal with workplace harassment when it happens. However, businesses also need to take concrete steps to prevent harassment from occurring in the first place.  Bridge Legal & HR Solutions can help you with workplace harassment investigations in Ontario. Our team’s strong investigative abilities are underpinned by a solid background in human resources and employment law as well as a strong working knowledge of the relevant policies. Contact Bridge Legal & HR Solutions today for a free initial consultation: 647-794-5442.

What Constitutes Harassment in the Workplace?

Harassment in the workplace can include a variety of behaviors that are either known to be unwelcome or should reasonably be expected to be unwelcome, such as:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Threats
  • Humiliation
  • Physical violence
  • Unwanted sexual innuendo
  • Sexual harassment.

Workplace harassment can come in many different forms and can be somewhat subjective. Interpretations of what constitutes harassment can vary from one person to another. In some instances, an employee can feel harassed when subtle behaviors such as condescending remarks or innuendos go on over a period of time. Generally, workplace harassment can describe a wide variety of actions ranging from incivility to physical assault and violence.

The Damaging Effects of Workplace Harassment

There are several damaging effects that workplace harassment can have including the following:

Health Risks

Harassment in the workplace, especially if it goes on unchecked over long periods, can have devastating effects on the health of employees. Victims of workplace harassment can suffer from a variety of mental and physical conditions including anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, insomnia, panic attacks, and other serious medical conditions.

Job Performance

Employees suffering from emotional and/or physical injuries as a result of workplace harassment are often less productive. They may also have prolonged absences from work, as an attempt to escape from their stressful work environment. A harassed employee may be preoccupied with the harassment situation, finding it hard or even impossible to perform their job to the best of their ability. Workplace harassment can lead to:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Being nervous and fearful
  • Avoidance of the person who is carrying out the harassment
  • Being preoccupied with the situation

Moreover, employees suffering from workplace harassment, bullying, or violence, will most likely be looking for employment elsewhere to try and escape from an abusive work environment. Having a problem with harassment or violence in a business can potentially lead to high staff turnover and considerable costs connected to recruiting, hiring, and training new staff.

If you want to protect your company from the liability issues and productivity losses that can come with workplace harassment and violence, consider conducting a workplace harassment investigation in Ontario. A thorough investigation can be an excellent way to ensure you are complying with the law and protecting your employees and your business. Call Bridge Legal & HR Solutions today to get started, and to ensure your legal rights remain protected.

Responsibility of Employers When it Comes to Workplace Harassment

Since Bill 132 came into force, an amendment to Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), the onus is on employers to investigate workplace harassment in Ontario and promptly act on any issues. The employer should also periodically review any potential risks of workplace harassment, ensuring that employees are protected from potential harassment and violence. This also entails adjusting any relevant policies and procedures on a continuing basis.

Policies for Protecting Employees

According to the law, employers must draw up policies dealing with workplace harassment and violence. Companies should also review such policies frequently, at least once a year, to ensure that they are still effective in preventing and dealing with workplace harassment. Employers should also implement protection programs that include, among other recommendations:

  • Procedures for workers to report workplace harassment
  • Procedures for the employer to investigate and address reported harassment
  • Actions that mitigate the risks of workplace harassment
  • Procedures for finding help immediately when workplace harassment is occurring

Additionally, an employer who is aware of an employee with a history of violent behavior should inform any employees that may encounter this person during the course of their work. In order to avoid injury or harm, an employer may also provide employees with personal information related to the individual with a history of violence.

Employers should be aware that failing to comply with the OHSA can have significant consequences including fines of up to $500,000 for businesses, and fines as well as potential imprisonment for individuals. 

How Bridge Legal & HR Solutions Can Help

Workplace investigations are an important first step that can help a business stay compliant with the law, implement the measures that are required, and protect an employer from liability. Bridge Legal & HR Solutions can help your business tackle work harassment issues before an incident happens by conducting thorough workplace assessments and internal audits. We can identify any issues with training or discipline, for example, that could contribute to future harassment or violence.

If an incident has already occurred, whether involving violence, sexual harassment, bullying, or another issue, our legal team can help your company with the following:

  • Determining the facts of the incident
  • Protecting other employees from harassment
  • Potentially preventing your business from getting sued
  • Showing your commitment to tackling workplace harassment
  • Helping to uncover evidence for your defense if litigation has commenced

Once an employer becomes aware of harassment at their workplace, they have the duty to investigate the incident. Having a capable and neutral third party conduct the investigation can ensure legal compliance and provide due process to the complainant and the accused.  If your organization has a designated in-house investigator, we can help them navigate the complicated issues surrounding employment and human resource laws.

Our team of experienced lawyers knows how to handle investigations efficiently, objectively, and within your budget. Workplace harassment issues can feel overwhelming for employers. However, our team of human resource and legal professionals can be here for you and guide you through the investigation process. No matter what size of business or budget, we can work out a solution for you.

Call Bridge Legal & HR Solutions today to find out how we can help you: 647-794-5442.

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