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Employee rights not typically covered under OHSA for harassment

An arbitrator has recently released a decision that employers may not be answerable to laws governing workplace harassment. Specifically, Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act does not hold employers legally accountable for harassment and other violations of employee rights if they are perpetrated by other employees or managers within the company. This has profound implications for employees who experience harassment in the workplace.

The case that set this precedent reportedly involved a unionized worker who alleged harassment and bullying visited on her by a former manager. The employee said she had not made management aware of every incident. However, she recalled several occasions wherein the manager allegedly spread libelous rumours, intentionally and unfairly rated her performance poorly and generally treating her more negatively than other employees were treated.  

While the collective agreement between the woman's union and her employer was designed to provide investigative support to employees suffering from bullying and harassment, that agreement did not extend so far as to make the employer liable for these incidents. The workplace harassment provisions in OHSA requires that employers maintain workplace harassment policies. However, there is no provision to force an employer to take action against an employee who has been accused of harassing behaviour. 

The specifics of employment law, particularly as they pertain to employee rights, are ever-changing both here in Ontario and across the nation. In an effort to combat harassment and other violations, the law is meant to protect employees from harm.  However, in many cases, the support of an experienced employment attorney can be invaluable to an employee who must escalate harassment charges beyond the scope of the employer's purview. 

Source:, "Ontario Employers Are Not, As A General Rule, Answerable Under The OHSA To Employees For Workplace Harassment By Fellow Employees Or Managers", Adrian Miedema, Aug. 12, 2017

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