As an employee, you have the right to a harassment-free workplace. If you are experiencing workplace harassment and your employer is not doing anything to alleviate it, it may be time to book a free consultation with one of our employment lawyers to help you learn and enforce your rights.
How our law firm can support you
If your employer has not provided you with a harassment-free workplace, you may feel unsure of what to do next. Rest assured you are not alone. When you call the employment lawyers at Share Lawyers, you will speak with someone who knows employment law, knows what you are going through and can offer you the best possible advice to get the compensation you deserve.
Why you should contact us:
- It’s free to talk to us
- There are no fees unless you win
- We specialize in employment law and can go through your options
- We make arrangements for a free consultation with one of our employment lawyers to see how we can fight back you are experiencing workplace harassment
- We're there to answer all of your questions
Workplace harassment is broadly defined across Canadian jurisdictions, but generally refers to some type of repetitive, offensive conduct that is known to be unwelcome.
Being harassed in your workplace can make you feel belittled, unsafe, and utterly powerless. Many employees know that they have a right to be free from workplace harassment, but exercising that right can be daunting and confusing, especially in the all-too-common case that the harasser is your supervisor.
What is workplace harassment?
Workplace harassment is defined very broadly by employment lawyers, and can refer to virtually any kind of vexatious comment or conduct which is known or ought reasonably be known to be unwelcome. Harassment typically (although not necessarily) refers to a series of incidents as opposed to one event. Harassment can also refer to sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances.
In recent years, our employment lawyers are hearing and seeing more stories about workplace harassment in the news and make up the most of the news alerts regarding employment issues. Workplace harassment is an unfortunately common phenomenon which has always existed but has only recently been named and recognized. With this recognition has come developments in Canadian employment legislation, which provides specific protection against workplace harassment for employees.
Despite the increase in worker protections, our employment lawyers find that many employees remain unaware of their rights. This renders legal protections against workplace harassment powerless, since those protections are almost all complaint based. To meaningfully combat workplace harassment, more employees need to learn about their workplace rights.
The first step is to know how to identify workplace harassment. But that concept is frequently and significantly misunderstood by the general public. As a result, employees are often left to deal with interpersonal issues on their own, not realizing that the issue they’re dealing is workplace harassment – a matter that ought to be addressed by the employer.
Harassment can be written, verbal, non-verbal, direct, or indirect
Workplace harassment may include teasing, innuendos, name-calling, unwanted advances, or bigoted comments. Harassment can occur verbally, in writing, or can even be non-verbal gestures, like staring, gift-giving, or touching. It can be directed towards a person, or can occur indirectly, through gossiping or spreading rumours.
A single instance can constitute harassment
While workplace harassment usually involves ongoing, repeated behaviour, it can also arise from one single incident of inappropriate conduct – like an unwanted sexual advance from a manager.
The harasser can be anyone
Workplace harassment does not only refer to interactions with your colleagues. You may also be a victim of workplace harassment at the hands of your manager, supervisor, CEO, subordinates, customers, clients, or even members of the public. In one famous case, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) was found to have failed to protect its employees from workplace harassment on Twitter, which was directed at drivers by members of the public.
Workplace harassment can happen anywhere, at any time
Workplace harassment does not always occur at the office or on the jobsite. It can refer to interactions between after work, off-site, or online (for instance, through social media) if those interactions affect the work environment.
When to seek legal advice
As we have written before, your employer is your first line of defence against workplace harassment. If your employer brushes aside your harassment complaint, conducts a flawed investigation, or punishes you for reporting about workplace harassment, your employment situation may become intolerable. In these circumstances it may be time to consult with an employment lawyer. A lawyer can help you either sue your employer for wrongful dismissal or constructive dismissal or file an unlawful reprisal application under health and safety or human rights legislation.
What are your employer’s duties regarding workplace harassment?
Your employer has a general duty to ensure a healthy, safe, and discrimination-free workplace. In most provinces, this includes a duty to take steps to protect employees from workplace harassment. More specific duties may vary from province to province, but may include the following:
- A duty to have a workplace harassment policy;
- A duty to investigate all complaints of workplace harassment;
- A duty to keep the details of investigations confidential;
- A duty to inform the parties of the outcome of an investigation.
What if my employer is complicit in the harassment?
Unfortunately, employers often mishandle workplace harassment. They may regard harassment as an interpersonal issue; they may treat both the victim and the harasser as “guilty”; sometimes, your supervisor or manager may even be the source of harassment.
Luckily for employees in most provinces, the law contains protections for employees stuck in this difficult circumstance. Specifically, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for making legitimate complaints of workplace harassment. This may not stop your employer from doing what they will do, if provides you with legal recourse in the event the worst-case scenario happens and you lose your employment.
What steps can I take to address workplace harassment?
You are your own first line of defence against workplace harassment. You can enforce your rights by reporting workplace harassment to your supervisor, your manager, your manager’s manager, human resources, or whomever else is designated to receive such complaints.
Here are some steps you can take to respond to workplace harassment:
Report the workplace harassment up the chain of command. No one will help you unless you ask for it. If the harasser is your boss, report it to their boss. If your company has a human resources department, report it to them.
Put it in writing
Lawyers often say that if it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen. Put all workplace harassment complaints in writing, to create a documentary record. If you complained verbally, follow up with an e-mail. Document instances of harassment including dates, times, names, witnesses, and what was said.
It’s not uncommon for workplace harassment complaints to disappear into a pile of paperwork. That can only happen if you let it. If your employer is not taking your complaint seriously, or not addressing it quickly enough, make it known (preferably, in writing).
Be the bigger person
Rise above the harassment, remain professional, and do not engage with the harasser. Remember that it is your employer’s job (not yours) to deal with workplace harassment. Laughing it off, retaliating in anger, or escalating the situation is not only unhelpful, it could distract from the real issue -- the fact that you are being subjected to harassment.
Talk to an employment lawyer
Unfortunately, your employer may not always be receptive to complaints of workplace harassment. Your employer might claim that you misinterpreted the situation; they might take the harasser’s side; they might tell you that you have to deal with it; or they might even threaten you with discipline. If this happens, it may be time to speak with an employment lawyer to evaluate your options.
The difference between workplace harassment and workplace conflict
Studies have shown that negative or bad behaviour in the workplace can have a high toll on people’s immune systems, and it is likely that for this reason we see a lot of cases related to workplace stress at Share Lawyers. Major health problems have also been linked to the high stress levels at work, resulting in cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, ulcers, as well as depression and anxiety. According to Health Canada, more than one in three Canadian employees report a high level of work/life conflict, one third of Canadian employees report high levels of depressed mood and half of Canadian employees experience high levels of stress due to work.
Failure to accommodate a disability?
Every employee in Canada is protected against discrimination by their employer, based on specific enumerated grounds under Human Rights Legislation both at the Ontario Labour Relations Board and at the other labour relations board across the country. One of those grounds is disability, and related absences from work due to disability. These human rights laws set the framework for your employment rights while on long term disability leave.
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Employment lawyer fees
We are different from other law firms dealing with employment law because we work on contingency and you do not have to pay any fees unless you win.* There are no upfront costs and there are no fees until we settle your case. Everything is results-driven, and we only get paid if you get paid. It is part of our Share Law Guarantee.
*certain exceptions apply and in cases where we are not able to offer a contingency fee retainer, we will discuss the other options with you.
How much time do I have?
Employment claims are subject to certain time limits. As soon as you have been terminated from your employment or feel that your rights as an employee have been ignored, we encourage you to contact the employment lawyers at Share Lawyers for legal advice and to discuss your case.
If you are experiencing workplace harassment and are unsure of your rights, we will review the details of your experience and talk you through all of your options — free of charge. It’s important to be informed about the employment process and to know your rights.
No fees unless you win your case
We understand your situation and that paying for an employment lawyer may feel out of reach. We are here to help you. That is why we offer a free consultation, why there are no upfront costs to you, and why there are no fees unless you win your case. You’re not alone. We believe in your case, which is why we only get paid when you do.
When you work with us, you get guidance and tools to help you along the way. You will become a member of a privileged group of clients that have access to our hub, called Life reBUILDER™, exclusively from Share Lawyers. It offers six unique services to help rebuild your life and get you back on track, beginning with the expertise of a full legal team all working for you.