Do You Really Need a
workplace Violence and
Harassment Policy?

Isn't everything covered in the
occupational health and safety act?

coact Do you really need a Workplace Violence and Harassment policy?? Isn’t everything covered in the Occupational Health and Safety Act?

Yes, you need a Workplace violence
and harassment Policy

I had a contract working closely with the Board of Directors for a small not-for-profit organization which had 10 employees.  They were a working Board which means that they volunteered their services to do much of the work of the organization.   When we had staff issues, one of the Directors would say to me, “…but we have a policy for that.” 

Actually – they had no policies.  They had practices.  So what is the difference?

A policy is a formal, written statement outlining a principle or a rule and the procedures that staff and management must follow in respect to the principle or rule.  They require a specified approval process and are published to their users and sometimes to the organization’s stakeholders.  They can be relied upon to be used in defence of an organization’s actions under a policy, should they be involved in arbitration or litigation.

Practices are the routine ways we handle certain events.  They are not formalized or documented.  There has been no approval process except by a mutual consent of the parties who continue to use the practice.   Practices can’t be relied upon for defence of an organization’s actions should those actions lead to litigation.

Companies must have a Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy sometimes called Respect in the Workplace Policy.  In Ontario, workplaces are required by law to have this policy.  Section 32 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act specifies that an employer must create a policy, post it and review it annually.  From the Act:

Policies, violence and harassment

                  32.0.1  (1)  An employer shall,

                  (a)             prepare a policy with respect to workplace violence;

                  (b)             prepare a policy with respect to workplace harassment; and

                  (c)             review the policies as often as is necessary, but at least annually.  2009, c. 23, s. 3.

Written form, posting

                  (2)  The policies shall be in written form and shall be posted at a conspicuous place in the workplace.  2009, c. 23, s. 3.

Other than the obvious value of being compliant with legislation, why is having this policy important? 

Messages an organization's position on respect and dignity in their workplace

This policy will document the organization’s position on Workplace Violence and Harassment.  At the minimum, that position will meet the standard set by the Occupational Health and Safety Act and incorporate the protected grounds identified in the Ontario Human Rights Code.  It is also a terrific opportunity to identify the value an organization places on a respectful workplace that provides dignity and safety to employees, management, customers and other stakeholders.  This sends a strong message to employees that their safety and well being is of value to the organization.

Defines harassment for that workplace

Definitions of what the organization means by “harassment” or “bullying” are important to include in the policy.  Most of the definitions are included in the Occupational Health and Safety Act and organizations can choose to use those definitions.  When creating policies, consideration should be given to customizing the definitions to meet workplace specific situations.  The definitions in the Occupational Health and Safety Act are:

“workplace harassment” means,

                  (a)             engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome, or

                  (b)             workplace sexual harassment; (“harcèlement au travail”)

“workplace sexual harassment” means,

                  (a)             engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, where the course of comment or conduct is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome, or

                  (b)             making a sexual solicitation or advance where the person making the solicitation or advance is in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the worker and the person knows or ought reasonably to know that the solicitation or advance is unwelcome; (“harcèlement sexuel au travail”)

Other definitions that should be included are definitions of harassment under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

In creating a policy, an organization may want to expand the definitions to be more specific.  For example, they may want to define bullying, cyberbullying, ghosting or mobbing.  They may also want to specify what is not harassment as this is often more difficult for employees to understand.

Outlines The steps both employees and management should take in the event of a harassment complaint

The policy should identify what steps an employee should take if they are experiencing harassment.  This should include:

·       Who to report the incident to

·       Any forms that need to be completed

·       How the incident will be investigated

·       Who will case manage the process

·       Who will investigate the allegations and how that will be determined

·       How confidentiality will be maintained

·       How parties will be informed about outcomes of the investigation

If you receive an allegation of harassment, you will be glad you have these steps already mapped out. Learn more about our workplace violence and harassment investigation services.

Document Your Whistle Blower Protection

Your goal is to have a respectful workplace, free from harassment.  One important tool in achieving this is to have a way for employees to bring concerns forward.  To do this, they have to be sure they will not be retaliated against.  Your policy can define what protections they can expect.

While most of us find policy writing to be a tedious process, the result of a policy that provides a clear value statement, understandable definitions and effective action steps is well worth the effort.


CoAct can help you create your Workplace Violence and Harassment policy and Code of Conduct policies.  Please call us at 905-581-2701, email or visit our website: