How To Recognize Violent Behaviour In The Workplace

Large man being violent towards smaller workers

There is always the potential for mistreatment to occur anywhere people gather, including the workplace. Learn what constitutes violent behaviour in Ontario and how to handle it at work.

A business is no place for violence or threats of violence to exist. Still, workplace violence occurs with substantial frequency. Employers who are informed about a threatening situation from one of their employees while at work should take the allegations seriously and do what is necessary to keep their workers protected. Workplace violence is not to be tolerated in businesses across the province of Ontario or throughout Canada.

What Type of Workplace Behavior is Considered Violent?

While workplace violence can be physical assault, that is not the only action considered violence. Any act that causes another party to feel threatened or intimidated can be regarded as “violence” under the law.

When an employee feels abused or scared at work, they have the right to inform their employer about the situation. A concerned employee also deserves the appropriate response from their employer, including investigating their claims.

When it comes to workplace violence, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety indicates the following acts are considered workplace violence:

  • Threatening behaviour – such as shaking fists, destroying property or throwing objects.
  • Verbal or written threats – any expression of an intent to inflict harm.
  • Verbal abuse – swearing, insults or condescending language.
  • Physical attacks – hitting, shoving, pushing or kicking.

The way each jurisdiction in Canada classifies workplace harassment and violence differs slightly. However, across Canada, employers are obligated to protect employees from workplace violence and investigate complaints that workplace violence may have occurred.

The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act

In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) outlines requirements that employers must abide by to prevent workplace violence and harassment. The OHSA also sets forth guidelines for steps that must be taken when violence or harassment occurs in the workplace.


The OHSA defines workplace violence as:

  1. The exercise of physical force by a person against a worker in a workplace that causes or could cause physical injury to the worker,
  2. An attempt to exercise physical force against a worker in a workplace that could cause physical injury to the worker,
  3. A statement or behaviour that it is reasonable for a worker to interpret as a threat to exercise physical force against the worker in a workplace that could cause physical injury to the worker.


According to Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training, and Skills Development, the following actions could be considered workplace violence in Ontario:

  • verbally threatening to attack a worker;
  • leaving threatening notes at or sending threatening e-mails to a workplace;
  • shaking a fist in a worker’s face;
  • wielding a weapon at work;
  • hitting or trying to hit a worker;
  • throwing an object at a worker;
  • sexual violence against a worker;
  • kicking an object the worker is standing on such as a ladder;
  • or trying to run down a worker using a vehicle or equipment such as a forklift.


How Would Hiring an External Investigator Help a Violent Workplace Situation?

There are several reasons why a business should consider utilizing an experienced workplace investigator to investigate misconduct at work, including workplace violence. Some of the benefits that come with using an external investigator include:

  • an increased likelihood that the outcome of the investigation will be neutral;
  • demonstrating that the employer takes workplace violence seriously and will undertake the most proactive response;
  • being able to choose an investigator who is specifically trained to handle intricate, complex, and time-intensive investigations and deliver results that stand up to outside scrutiny;
  • avoiding over-loading and distracting internal employees by having them handle a workplace investigation, which in turn allows the business to function efficiently;

If a business has a toxic or violent workplace environment that is threatening towards employees, it is imperative to understand the situation fully and take action. Consider contacting the Ontario workplace investigators at Bridge Legal HR to learn more about your legal rights as an employer and your obligations to your employees.

Safety First

Before anything else, if you have been injured in the workplace due to violence, or as an employer if you are notified of workplace violence, safety is a priority. Ensure everyone is safe before all else, and contact appropriate law enforcement if necessary.

Workplace violence in Ontario does not just happen at the office. It is important to note that workplace violence may also occur at work-related functions. Whether it be an off-site conference, a dinner, a trade show, a social event, or any interaction that could have an impact on the workplace, workplace violence must be addressed and investigated. Along with ensuring that an employer addresses all legal obligations, it is important that employers show their employees that workplace violence will not be tolerated.


Consider Speaking with a Workplace Investigator Today

The Ontario workplace investigation team at Bridge Legal & HR Solutions can help your company by investigating any incidents that include workplace violence. Our experienced Ontario investigators can provide comprehensive workplace investigations and consulting services. Consider calling our legal team today at 647-794-5442.

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