As businesses transition from a remote workforce towards a full-time return to the office, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it is important that employees are familiar with their rights when it comes to behaviour in the workplace. In many cases, employees have never met face to face, or have not seen one another in over two years. As a result, we may see a rise in inappropriate workplace behaviour.
There are rules in place for employers in Canada to help protect employees from inappropriate workplace behaviour. In Ontario, the legislation that guides workplace standards is the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Your employer has a duty to provide a safe work environment and must take steps to help prevent and address inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.
The Ontario Human Rights Code
The Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”), states that every person has a right to freedom from discrimination and equal treatment without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.
Freedom from Harassment in Employment
The Code states that every person who is an employee has a right to freedom from harassment in the workplace by the employer or agent of the employer or by another employee because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability.
The legal definitions for workplace harassment are very broad and can be applied to a variety
of situations. They include workplace discrimination, psychological harassment, sexual
harassment, bullying, physical violence, and more subtle behaviour such as microaggressions or promoting harmful stereotypes.
Examples of Inappropriate Workplace Behaviour
Behaviours that are considered to be inappropriate, concerning, or threatening include:
• Sending angry or aggressive emails
• Inappropriate social media comments about a co-worker
• Unwanted sexual advances
• Comments of a sexual nature
• Abusive, or offensive comments
• Acts of physical violence, property damage, or production of a weapon
• Threats of violence
• Depictions of or sharing of pornographic images in the workplace
Please note that workplace harassment does not include disciplinary decisions (insubordination, absenteeism, or overall productivity), or management decisions (hiring, promotions, scheduling).
If you have experienced harassment or discrimination in the workplace, you may be entitled to
compensation for injuries to your feelings, dignity, and self-respect. If you lost your job as a
result of this conduct, you might also be entitled to be reinstated to your position and receive
lost wages for the time you were off from work.
Occupational Health and Safety Act
It is important that you report all instances of workplace discrimination or harassment as soon
as you are able. Reporting inappropriate behaviour triggers your employer’s duty to investigate
pursuant to section 32.0.07 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA”). The
investigation must be appropriate in the circumstances and must be:
• Prompt: Your employer is obligated to take all reasonable steps to ensure your
immediate safety. The investigation should be completed as soon as possible and must
be completed within 90 days or less.
• Objective: The person conducting the investigation must remain neutral and objective.
It should not be someone involved in the dispute or who in the circumstances would be
unable to provide an objective assessment of your allegations.
• Confidential: The details of your complaint and the investigation must remain
confidential and should only be disclosed to the extent required by law for the
complainant to be able to respond to your allegations, or to conduct interviews with
• Thorough: The Investigator must take all reasonable steps to interview the parties
involved in your complaint, including your alleged harasser(s) and any witnesses.
Following the investigation, you are entitled to receive a copy of the written report. The report
should outline the process that the investigator followed, whether your allegations were found
to be substantiated, and whether the employer has taken any corrective action as a result of
Other Ways to Manage Inappropriate Behaviour in the Workplace
If you are confronted with inappropriate behaviours, or made to feel uncomfortable because of who you are, it can be a confusing and difficult thing to manage on your own. Below, we have set out some strategies that might help you navigate a workplace dispute:
• Speak up: If you find yourself subject to inappropriate behaviour from a colleague, speak up right away. Explain to them what they are doing, and why it is making you feel uncomfortable. Your personal boundaries are important. If their behaviour continues speak to your supervisor or human resources team and advise them of the situation.
• Do your research: Ensure you familiarize yourself with your employer’s policy and guidelines relating to professionalism in the workplace. Knowing the expectations of employees in the workplace will help you understand your options and what you can do moving forward.
• Document everything: If your co-worker’s behaviour has led you to feel uncomfortable or threatened in any way it is important to keep a journal and outline the dates, times, and number of incidents. Having a record of events can help you to gather your thoughts when discussing this with your supervisor or human resources team.
If you are a worker experiencing workplace harassment or discrimination in the workplace we
can help. If you have questions about your rights or entitlements, please contact Monkhouse
Law Employment Lawyers. Give us a call at 416-907-9249 or fill out this quick form. We
offer a free 30-minute phone consultation.