What is Harassment?

As defined by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, harassment is a form of discrimination. It includes any unwanted physical or verbal behaviour that offends or humiliates you. Generally, harassment is a behaviour that persists over time. Serious one-time incidents can also sometimes be considered harassment.

Harassment also includes behaviour that contravenes the protections of the Canadian Human Rights Act. This legislation protects individuals against harassment based on the prohibited grounds.

Harassing behaviour may be verbal, physical, deliberate, unsolicited or unwelcome. It may be made up of either one incident or a series of incidents. While not an exhaustive list, harassment may include:

  • verbal abuse or threats;
  • unwelcome remarks, jokes, innuendos or taunting about a person’s body, attire, age, marital status, ethnic or national origin, religion, etc.;
  • displaying of sexual explicit, racist or other offensive or derogatory pictures;
  • practical jokes which cause awkwardness or embarrassment;
  • unwelcome invitations or requests, whether indirect or explicit, or intimidation;
  • condescension or paternalism which undermines self-respect;
  • unnecessary physical contact such as touching, patting, pinching, punching; or
  • physical assault.

At work, your employer is responsible for ensuring that employees can carry out their tasks in a workplace free from harassment. The Treasury Board has a Directive on the Prevention and Resolution of Workplace Harassment and Violence which is designed to foster a respectful workplace through the prevention and prompt resolution of harassment.

What are my options if I have been harassed?

The first thing you should do is contact your local union representative for information or advice. You should also tell your supervisor, manager or person designated by your employer that you feel you’ve been harassed at work. Make sure to keep a written record of when and where you were harassed, what was said or done, who said or did it and the names of any witnesses. There are a number of options depending on the circumstances but we recommend the following:

The first thing that should be considered is whether or not the harassment is based on a prohibited ground of discrimination.

If No – You should file a Canada Labour Code Complaint (#5) AND, if you’ve used leave or had out-of-pocket expenses in relation to the complaint you should file a Personal Harassment Grievance (#2) or an Internal Complaint (#4). You can then put these into abeyance if you would like to consider an Informal Resolution Process (#1)

If Yes – You should file a Canada Labour Code Complaint (#5) AND a Discriminatory Harassment Grievance (#2) for damages, pain & suffering AND it is also possible to file a Canadian Human Rights Complaint (#3) which is helpful with systemic issues and when there is a need for training. You can put these into abeyance if you would like to consider an Informal Resolution Process (#1)

Please see below for the options available to you if you have been harassed.

1. Informal Resolution Process

Whether or not a written complaint has been filed, you should, if appropriate, make the situation known to the other person as constructively as possible in an attempt to resolve the situation. This could include the assistance of a resource person such as a union representative, coach, facilitator, advisor, mediator or manager/supervisor to help you prepare for a meaningful conversation and to offer support to help reach a resolution.

If the problem is not resolved, or if you feel you cannot speak directly with the other person, other options such as a facilitated dialogue or mediation can be explored. Informal resolution processes can be effective in resolving issues related to harassment but require the willingness of the parties to participate. They are voluntary processes and cannot be forced on anyone.

2. File a Grievance

Filing a grievance could assist you in getting back sick leave or any out of pocket expenses you may have incurred due to the harassment (but this is not guaranteed). You must notify your local union representative that you would like to file a grievance against the Employer. You only have 25 business days from the last alleged incident to file a grievance so it is important to approach your local union representative in a timely manner to assist you in filing out a Grievance Form. If you are unsure who your local shop steward is, your Local President can help. Wording for the grievance can be found in our Grievance Wording section.

It is important for you to be an active participant in the grievance process and ensure that you provide all facts which include a chronology of events (date(s) and detailed descriptions of the incident(s)) and any supporting documentation.


A Harassment Grievance can be filed if the harassment is based on one of the prohibited grounds protected in the Canadian Human Rights Act. You must notify your local union representative that you would like to file a grievance against the Employer, alleging a violation of the article of the collective agreement regarding discrimination.


A Personal Harassment Grievance is not based on one of the prohibited grounds protected in the Canadian Human Rights Act. These types of grievances are non-adjudicable which means that they only go up to the final level of the Employer’s process and cannot be heard by the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board.

3. File a Canadian Human Rights Commission Complaint

You can and should also file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) if an allegation of harassment is based on one of the grounds of discrimination prohibited under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

You should file a complaint within 12 months of the act or treatment that you are complaining about. The things they will need to know are:

  • The specific ground(s) of discrimination (race, sex, disability, religion, etc.)
  • A detailed description of what happened (how were you discriminated against)
  • The negative effect this act or treatment has had on you.

You can file a complaint directly on the Canadian Human Rights Commission website. Please see the question Should you file a Canadian Human Rights Complaint or a Grievance? to find more information on filing a complaint with the CHRC.

4. File an Internal Harassment Complaint

*Please note that this process has changed in many departments with the implementation of the Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations (part of the Canada Labour Code) which came into effect on January 1, 2021.You must submit a harassment complaint in writing within one year of the last alleged incident to the designated official or any other person chosen by your organization to manage complaints of harassment. The complaint should include:

  • the nature of the allegations
  • the name of the respondent (alleged harasser)
  • the relationship of the respondent to the complainant (e.g., supervisor, colleague)
  • the date and a detailed description of the incident(s)
  • if applicable, the names of witnesses.

The onus is on you to provide sufficient information and be as precise as possible.At this stage, try to be concise, clear, and focused on facts.

The complaint will not proceed if:

  • the complaint is incomplete (following clarification)
  • has not been filed within twelve months of the last incident of the alleged harassment (unless there are extenuating circumstances)
  • a grievance has already been filed on the same issue

The Treasury Board’s Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process contains the five steps that must be followed by managers in order to ensure that the harassment complaint process is carried out promptly and respects the principles of procedural fairness towards the complainant, the respondent and all other parties involved. The steps are:

  1. Acknowledging receipt of the complaint while ensuring that:
    • The employee understands that if a complaint on the same issue is or has been dealt with through another avenue of recourse, the complaint process under the directive will not proceed further and the file will be closed.
    • the written complaint is submitted within 12 months of the last incident or event of alleged harassment (unless there are extenuating circumstances).
    • the parties are made aware of the options for informal resolution from the outset and throughout the process.
  2. Reviewing the complaint to determine whether the allegation(s) meets the definition of harassment as described in the directive. The respondent is notified of the complaint whether or not the complaint is admissible.
  3. Exploring options for resolving the complaint while ensuring that consideration is given to informal resolution processes. Should there be an investigation, the person conducting the investigation is appropriately qualified and applies the principles of procedural fairness.
  4. Rendering a decision and notifying in writing the parties involved as to whether or not the allegations were founded.
  5. Restoring the well-being of the workplace while ensuring that:
    • the work unit manager in consultation with the Informal Conflict Resolution practitioners and other relevant organizational resources addresses the needs of the parties concerned and the work unit throughout the complaint process as well as any detrimental impacts resulting from the incidences of harassment; and
    • the work unit manager takes timely corrective and/or disciplinary measures, if warranted, including addressing reprisal or risk of reprisal.

The first 4 steps should be completed in a timely fashion, normally within 12 months unless there are extenuating circumstances, and the last step should be initiated within the same time frame.

For additional information on the application of the steps in the harassment complaint process, consult the Treasury Board’s Guide on Applying the Harassment Resolution Process.

5. File a Canada Labour Code Complaint

The Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations, are part of the Canada Labour Code which came into effect on January 1, 2021. The Regulations address harassment and violence in federally regulated workplaces. These Regulations also apply in cases of violence, including alleged threats. Assaults, including sexual assault, and criminal harassment are subject to the Criminal Code and such cases should be promptly referred to the appropriate authorities. These new regulations made changes to the process previously referred to as a “Part XX” Complaint and provide some significant improvements over previous processes (though there is still room for further improvement).

Notification and Investigation

  • If an employer becomes aware of allegations of harassment or workplace violence (can be done verbally or in written form), the employer must acknowledge the notice within 7 days. If your direct supervisor or manager is the person accused of harassment or violence, the Employer must have a designated person who can receive complaints. Witnesses can also report an incident anonymously. The type of information the designated recipient will require is the name of the person harassed, the name of their representative (if applicable), the identity of the alleged harasser(s), the dates and descriptions of incidents and any witness names.
  • If notice of an occurrence of harassment or violence is received, the employer must review the allegations with the complainant to confirm that they meet the definition of harassment or violence. If so, the Employer must make reasonable attempts to resolve the matter informally. This may include mediation, conciliation, facilitate discussions or other means.
  • If the matter is unresolved, the employer shall appoint an investigator (a person who is impartial and is seen by the parties to be impartial; has knowledge, training and experience in issues relating to work place violence; and has knowledge of relevant legislation) to investigate the allegations of harassment or work place violence and provide that person with any relevant information whose disclosure is not prohibited by law and that would not reveal the identity of persons involved without their consent. The selection of the investigator is made jointly with the Union, and if no agreement can be reached, then the investigator can be appointed from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety list of approved investigators.
  • The investigator shall investigate the work-place violence and at the completion of the investigation provide to the employer a written report with conclusions and recommendations.

The employer and the workplace health & safety committee or representative must jointly decide which recommendations are to be implemented and how to do so.

  • The process now includes deadlines – a maximum of one year from the time that notice is given of an occurrence to the completion of the report and review.

It is important to note that not all situations are covered under this legislation. The Regulations do not apply if:

  • The responding party is neither the employer nor an employee;
  • The exposure to harassment and violence is a normal condition of the complainant’s work; and

The employer has measures in place to address that workplace harassment and violence.