Preventing workplace violence and workplace harassment
Learn about employer duties, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, to protect workers from workplace violence and harassment.
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Everyone should be able to work in a safe and healthy workplace. The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) sets out roles and responsibilities for workplace parties with respect to workplace violence and workplace harassment, including developing and implementing policies and programs.
Workplace violence means:
- the exercise of physical force by a person against a worker, in a workplace, that causes or could cause physical injury to the worker
- an attempt to exercise physical force against a worker, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to the worker
- 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
Workplace harassment means:
- engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome or
- workplace sexual harassment
Workplace sexual harassment means:
- engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, where the course of comment or conduct is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome or
- making a sexual solicitation or advance where the person making the solicitation or advance is in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the worker and the person knows or ought reasonably to know that the solicitation or advance is unwelcome
Workplace violence may include hitting a worker, throwing objects at a worker, sexual violence, or threats, whether conveyed verbally, in writing, or through behaviour. A customer, client, patient, student, co-worker, supervisor, or a stranger could be violent or threaten to be violent in the workplace.
Employers must proactively assess the risks of workplace violence that may arise from the nature of the workplace, the type of work or the conditions of work. Measures and procedures to control these risks must be included in the workplace violence program. Employers must advise the Joint Health and Safety Committee or health and safety representative, if any, or workers, of the results of the assessment, and provide a written copy, if available.
Policy and program for workplace violence
Employers must prepare a policy with respect to workplace violence, and develop and maintain a program to implement the policy. Employers must provide information and instruction to workers on the contents of these policies and programs.
The workplace violence program must include measures and procedures for:
- controlling risks identified in the assessment of risks
- summoning immediate assistance when workplace violence occurs or is likely to occur and
- workers to report incidents of workplace violence
Workplace violence programs must also set out how the employer will investigate and deal with incidents or complaints of workplace violence.
Employers who are aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, that domestic violence may occur in the workplace must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect a worker at risk of physical injury.
Employers and supervisors must provide information to a worker about a risk of workplace violence from a person with a history of violent behaviour if the worker can expect to encounter that person in the course of work, and if the worker may be at risk of physical injury. Personal information may be disclosed, but only what is reasonably necessary to protect the worker from physical injury.
Workers have the right to refuse work if they have a reason to believe they are in danger from workplace violence. For certain workers who protect public safety, this right is limited.
The OHSA sets out general duties for an employer under Section 25, for a supervisor under Section 27, and for a worker under Section 28. These general duties also apply, as appropriate, to workplace violence.
Workplace harassment may include bullying, intimidating or offensive jokes or innuendos, displaying or circulating offensive pictures or materials, or offensive or intimidating phone calls, emails, or other communications. It also includes workplace sexual harassment. A worker could be harassed at work by a customer, client, patient, student, co-worker, supervisor, or a stranger.
Policy and program for workplace harassment
Employers must prepare a policy with respect to workplace harassment, and develop and maintain a program to implement the policy. The program must be developed and maintained in consultation with the Joint Health and Safety Committee or a health and safety representative, if any. Employers must provide information and instruction to workers on the contents of the policy and program.
The workplace harassment program must include:
- measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment to the employer or supervisor, or to report to a person other than the employer or supervisor, if the employer or supervisor is the alleged harasser
- how incidents or complaints of workplace harassment will be investigated and dealt with, and how confidentiality will be maintained and
- how the results of the investigation will be provided to the worker who allegedly experienced workplace harassment and the alleged harasser
To protect a worker from workplace harassment, an employer must ensure that:
- an investigation that is appropriate in the circumstances is conducted into incidents and complaints of workplace harassment
- the worker who has allegedly experienced workplace harassment and the alleged harasser, if he or she is a worker of the employer, are informed in writing of the results of the investigation and of any corrective action that has been taken or that will be taken as a result of the investigation
- the harassment program is reviewed as often as necessary, but at least annually, to ensure that it adequately implements the policy with respect to workplace harassment
Employers, supervisors and unions also have responsibilities to prevent and address harassment prohibited under the Ontario's Human Rights Code.
The OHSA does not require an employer to assess the risk of workplace harassment and does not allow workers to refuse work only on the basis of workplace harassment.
An inspector may order an employer to cause an investigation appropriate in the circumstances to be conducted by an impartial person possessing the knowledge, experience or qualifications specified by the inspector. The employer would be responsible for the costs of this investigation.
Calling the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development
Always contact police first in emergency situations, if threats or actual violence occur at a workplace.
The Ministry encourages internal workplace resolution of complaints. Where possible, incidents and complaints of workplace violence or workplace harassment should first be brought to the attention of the supervisor or employer and/or the person identified in the workplace harassment program. A worker may also seek to resolve a workplace harassment incident or complaint outside of the employer's internal investigation process.
If an employer is not complying with the workplace violence and workplace harassment requirements in the OHSA, workers may call the ministry's province-wide Health & Safety Contact Centre toll-free at
Ministry inspectors do not resolve or mediate specific allegations of harassment in the workplace. Inspectors do not investigate allegations to determine if the behaviour of any of the individuals involved constitutes workplace harassment as defined by the Act. Inspectors do not have the authority to order individual remedies such as monetary compensation to individuals who experience harassment in the workplace.
It is an employer’s duty to notify the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development when a person is critically injured or killed in a workplace, which includes situations when the cause is workplace violence.
This resource does not replace the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations and should not be used as or considered legal advice. Health and safety inspectors apply and enforce these laws based on the facts they find in the workplace.