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Workplace Violence & Workplace Harassment Policies

May 30, 2016


The management of every corporation should be committed to the prevention of workplace violence as they are ultimately responsible for worker health and safety.

They should take whatever steps are reasonable to protect their workers from workplace violence from all sources.

Management should be committed to providing a work environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity.

Workplace violence means:

  • The exercise of physical force by a person against a worker, in a workplace, that causes or could cause a physical injury to the worker
  • An attempt to exercise physical force against a worker, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to  a worker
  • A statement or behaviour that 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

Examples of workplace violence include:  verbally threatening to attack a worker, leaving threatening notes or sending threatening emails to a workplace, shaking a fist in a worker’s face, wielding a weapon at work, hitting or trying to hit a worker, throwing an object at a worker, sexual violence against a worker, kicking an object the worker is standing on such as a ladder or trying to run down a worker using a vehicle or equipment such as a forklift.  All incidences of workplace violence should be reported to a manager for a complete investigation.

Workplace harassment is defined as engaging in a course of vexatious comments or conduct against a worker in a workplace – behaviour that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.

The comments or conduct typically happen more than once, several times in a day or several times over a longer period of time (weeks, months or years).

Workplace harassment can involve unwelcome words or actions that are known or should be known to be offensive, embarrassing, humiliating or demeaning to a worker or group of workers.

It can also include behaviour that intimidates, isolates or even discriminates against the targeted individual(s).

Workplace harassment often includes repeated words or actions, or a pattern of behaviours, against a worker or group of workers in the workplace that are unwelcome.

This may include:

  • Making remarks, jokes or innuendos that demean, ridicule, intimidate or offend
  • Displaying or circulating offensive pictures or materials in print or electronic form
  • Bullying
  • Repeated offensive or intimidating phone calls or e-mails or
  • Inappropriate sexual touching, advances, suggestions or requests

Workplace harassment also includes psychological or personal harassment such as harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, ancestry, colour, sex, religion, disability or sexual orientation.  See Ontario’s Human Rights Code for a complete listing.

Workplace harassment should not be tolerated from any person in the workplace.  Everyone in the workplace must be dedicated to preventing workplace harassment and all should be held accountable.

Unwanted behaviours need to be addressed early to minimize the potential for workplace harassment to lead to workplace violence.

The harassing or violent person may be someone the worker comes into contact with due to the nature of their work.

This may include a customer, a sales person, a supplier, a co-worker or supervisor.  The person may be someone with no formal connection to the workplace such as a stranger or a domestic/intimate partner who brings violence or harassment into the workplace.

Canada’s Criminal Code deals with matters such as violent acts, threats and behaviours such as stalking.  The police should be contacted in these situations.  Harassment may also be a matter that falls under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

Joint health and safety committees and health and safety representatives have the same powers and responsibilities for workplace violence hazards as they do for other occupational health and safety hazards under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  They need to be aware of the risks and be able to recognize and/or report on them if necessary.  This may include a work stoppage if a violent hazard exists.

Every worker, manager or supervisor must work in compliance with this type of policy and the supporting program.

Workers are encouraged to report any incidence of workplace violence or harassment.  There should be no negative consequences for incidences reported in good faith.

What needs to be done if there is an incidence of workplace violence or harassment?

To report an incidence:

  • Contact a manager immediately.  Discuss the incident. Make note of the date and time of the incident.  If it is an immediate threat remove yourself from the scene and get help either internally or externally from a neighbour or call the police.
  • The informed manager then has the responsibility to properly investigate the incident and take the necessary disciplinary steps. The recommendations will then be discussed with senior management and action taken.

Management should pledge to investigate and deal with all concerns, complaints or incidents of workplace harassment or violence in a fair and timely manner while respecting workers’ privacy as much as possible.

The incident investigation should include full interviews of the parties involved and a recording of date and time of the incident.  A description of action items and time frame for completion will be noted and recorded as action is taken.

Nothing in any policy should prevent a worker from filing an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on a matter related to Ontario’s Human Rights Code.   Within one year of the alleged incident a worker also retains the right to exercise any other legal avenues that may be available.

The workplace violence and harassment policy should be consulted whenever there are concerns about harassment or violence in the workplace.

These are just a few tips for constructing your Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy.

For more information download a copy of Bill 168 which provides the background for this type of policy.


Workplace harassment does not include minor disagreements between co-workers and any behaviour that would not meet the definition of workplace violence would not be considered workplace harassment.

Also reasonable action or conduct by an employer or manager as part of normal work function would not be considered workplace harassment such as changing work assignments, work schedules, inspections, explanation of dress codes and disciplinary actions.

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