Workplace harassment: investigations by an impartial person
Learn about orders to have an investigation into workplace harassment carried out by an impartial person.
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One of the main purposes of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) is to promote a strong Internal Responsibility System (IRS). When the IRS is not working, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD) can be contacted and an inspector can investigate to determine compliance with the OHSA.
For workplace harassment, workers should use the process set out in the workplace harassment program to deal with concerns or report incidents. The OHSA requires the employer to ensure an investigation appropriate in the circumstances is conducted. The employer must carry out its duties under the OHSA. This will help to ensure a better functioning of the IRS.
When may an order for an impartial person investigation under 55.3 of the OHSA be issued?
An MLTSD inspector may order an employer to have an investigation appropriate to the circumstances into an incident or complaint of workplace harassment, carried out by “an impartial person possessing such knowledge, experience or qualifications as are specified by the inspector.” This investigation would be conducted at the expense of the employer, and a written report would be provided to the employer [section 55.3 of the OHSA].
Examples of when an impartial person investigation under 55.3 of the OHSA may be required are:
- The alleged harasser is the employer and a person internal to the workplace conducting the investigation would be unduly influenced by the alleged harasser’s high-ranking position.
- The employer and/or organization has not effectively dealt with or addressed workplace harassment complaints in the past (e.g. multiple complaints about the same person or behaviour).
- The employer can’t ensure that the investigation will be conducted objectively by someone internally.
Who is considered an “impartial person”?
An “impartial person” is someone who is unbiased, with no conflict of interest, and in good standing with their professional body (if applicable). While one may expect that an “impartial person” may be someone external to the workplace or organization, in some circumstances it could be someone in the organization.
The inspector would decide the criteria for knowledge, experience or qualifications to be set out in the order. The specific criteria would depend on the circumstances of the case, and could include:
- Knowledge of the workplace harassment and reprisal provisions under the OHSA, and other applicable laws.
- Experience in conducting workplace investigations, dealing with confidentiality and privacy in the context of those investigations, preparing comprehensive reports, and dealing with complex and/or sensitive situations.
An example of a person an employer could engage to conduct a workplace investigation, subject to the circumstances of the case and to any criteria set out in the order, could include someone who is:
- An individual in the workplace such as a member of the human resources department; or
- An individual associated with the organization, such as someone at a related franchise, or a corporate office.
Where it would be more appropriate for a third party to investigate, the person could be someone who is:
- From a business association
- A human resource professional
- A lawyer or
- A licensed private investigator
It should be noted that if someone conducts workplace investigations as a primary part of their business, they need to be properly licensed – usually as a lawyer or a private investigator.
- Occupational Health and Safety Act (view workplace harassment provision updates)
- Workplace Violence and Harassment
Ontario provides a toll free province-wide telephone number to report unsafe work practices and workplace health and safety incidents. Call the MLTSD Health & Safety Contact Centre at
- Call any time to report critical injuries, fatalities or work refusals.
- Call 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday – Friday, for general inquiries about workplace health and safety.
- In an emergency, always call 911 immediately.
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.