Workplace Bullying and Employer Obligations

Written by on January 7, 2021 in Employment Law Blog, Employment Law Issues
Workplace Bullying and Harassment

Workplace harassment and bullying are more common than most of us care to admit. In fact, according to research out of the University of Phoenix, 75% of all workers have experienced it. And although this is a statistic from the United States, it is not hard to imagine that the numbers here in Canada are not much different. Workplace bullying takes place in all sectors and it can happen whether employees are working onsite or working remotely.

In order to address the phenomenon of workplace bullying, laws have been implemented by the Canadian and Ontario governments. Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, for example, makes it very clear that harassment in the workplace is illegal. And Canada’s Human Rights Code makes it illegal to discriminate based on demographic factors such as age, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

What is workplace bullying and harassment?

Not all uncomfortable or unpleasant workplace interactions qualify as bullying or harassment. For example, an employer has the right to criticize work that doesn’t meet their standards and they have the right to impose reasonable and justifiable disciplinary action.

Employers and co-workers however, do not have the right to humiliate an employee or subject them to angry outbursts. Neither do they have the right to deliberately make the work environment so unpleasant for them that they wish to quit their jobs. Workplace bullying may also include leaving an employee out of decisions which they should be a part of as can often be the case when the employee is working from home.

Under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, harassment is defined as any comment or act that is known or should be known to be unwelcome including sexual harassment.

What are an employer’s obligations in regard to workplace bullying?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act mandates the following:

  • Every workplace must have an anti-harassment/anti-bullying policy in place which includes a mechanism to implement it.
  • Employers and those in management positions must have training in the policy to ensure they know how to respond to complaints of bullying.
  • When an employer is made aware of a potential workplace bullying situation, they are legally obligated to investigate and address the situation.


When an employer is made aware of a bullying allegation, they have a duty to investigate in a timely manner. This should include interviewing the person who made the complaint as well as interviewing any other relevant persons. Following the investigation, the employer should communicate with the complainant the results of the investigation including any corrective actions that are being taken. If the employer fails in this regard, they could be subject to violations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Implementing Solutions

An employer is responsible to ensure a healthy work environment and following a bullying allegation, they must do their best to restore that environment. This does not necessarily mean the complainant will get the solution they want however – only that the employer can choose what they think is the best method to resolve the harassment/bullying situation.

Poisoned or Toxic Work Environment

In some cases, harassment and bullying can be taken so far that the workplace is considered “poisoned” or “toxic” and there is little chance that the situation can be resolved. This can happen when an employer fails to adequately address the bullying or harassment or if they take part in it themselves.

In this case, the bullied employee may be entitled to damages for constructive dismissal.

Contact Minken Employment Lawyers today

Minken Employment Lawyers is your source for expert advice and advocacy on today’s employment law issues. If you have any questions with respect to the above or need guidance on how to handle bullying and harassment in the workplace, please contact us or call us at 905-477-7011 to schedule a consultation. Sign up for our newsletter to receive up-to-date Employment Law information, including new legislation and Court decisions impacting your workplace.

Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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