Supporting a Harassment-Free Workplace during Vaccine Policy Implementation
calendar icon October 4th, 2021
Supporting a Harassment-Free Workplace during Vaccine Policy Implementation

The province has officially introduced vaccine policy requirements for high-risk settings across the province and is now requiring proof of vaccination to enter certain businesses.


Vaccines delivered as part of Ontario’s vaccine rollout provide high levels of effectiveness against hospitalization and death from COVID-19 and its variants, including the Delta variant. During July 2021, unvaccinated individuals were approximately eight times more likely to get infected with COVID-19 compared to those who were fully vaccinated.


Impacted employers are tasked with implementing vaccination policies within their workplaces. Organizations are encouraged to have robust communication and education plans in place to support comfortable, positive compliance within the workplace. These activities may increase the potential for challenging or uncomfortable conversations in the workplace, as well as the potential for workplace harassment.


Moving forward, to ensure the safety of all employees while implementing a vaccination policy, organizations are encouraged to remind workplace parties of the policy requirements, expectations and promotion of a harassment-free work environment. This is also a good opportunity to access resources supporting a harassment-free workplace. 


Do You Know What Constitutes as Harassment?


Harassment can take on many forms in our workplaces. Providing training to employees that goes over signs and protocols of harassment in the workplace provides employees with the necessary information to identify their rights and obligations, know the procedures and protocols around workplace harassment, and more.


*Note: Employer requirements related to workplace violence and harassment prevention can be found under the Policies section of this blog.


Harassment is usually an ongoing pattern of behaviour. According to Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act  (OHSA), harassment is defined as “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 and/or workplace sexual harassment” (OHSA 1 (1)). Some practical examples of harassment can include:


  • Yelling at, threatening or constantly interrupting a person
  • Preventing a person from expressing him or herself, or from speaking to others
  • Unwanted sexual advances which may or may not be accompanied by threats, explicit or implicit promises
  • Making rude, degrading or offensive remarks
  • Making gestures that seek to intimidate
  • Discrediting the person, spreading rumors, gossiping, shouting abuse, calling into question convictions or private life
  • Compelling the person to perform tasks that are inferior to their competencies, belittling or name-calling, setting the person up for failure
  • Making fun of beliefs, values, political or religious choices
  • Harassing a person based on prohibited grounds of discrimination as described in the Canadian Human Rights Act
  • Engaging in reprisals for submitting a harassment complaint


However, harassment is not carrying out managerial duties where the direction was carried out in a respectful and professional manner, allocating work and following up on work absences, requiring performance to a job standard or taking justified corrective or disciplinary measures are not considered to be harassment.


PSHSA’s eLearning module on workplace harassment provides an overview of existing statutory requirements for workplace violence and harassment under the OHSA and the extended obligations arising from legislative changes. If you are looking to build a custom workplace harassment eLearning module to fit your specific workplace, we can help with that too.


COVID-19 Vaccination Educational Session


To promote policy implementation, the use of credible, interactive training support is recommended. By hosting an information session and providing employees with accurate and current information about the vaccines with the help of external trainers and health experts, employers can ensure that employees have been provided with the most up-to-date information regarding vaccines, so they can make an informed decision. 


These sessions can cover: 


  • How approved COVID-19 vaccines work
  • Vaccine safety related to the development of the COVID-19 vaccines
  • The benefits of vaccination against COVID-19
  • Risks of not being vaccinated against COVID-19
  • Possible side effects of COVID-19 vaccination




COVID-19 vaccination policies can cover the following:



These policies can also cover protocols for what happens when unvaccinated employees begin returning to work, whether that means the continuation of working from home, testing requirements or changes to how the physical work environment is organized.


The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development has launched a free online and interactive platform that will make it easier and faster for employers to create a plan to address the risks of exposures to workplace hazards like COVID-19 in their workplace. The workplace safety plan builder can be found at, along with the existing safety plan guide and other helpful resources for businesses.


In Ontario, employers with over five employees have the responsibility to have workplace violence and harassment policies in place, and a program to implement workplace violence policies. According to section 32.0.1 of the OHSA, all employers must prepare a policy with respect to workplace violence, prepare a policy with respect to workplace harassment, and review the policies as often as is necessary, but at least annually. Policies are required to be posted in an accessible location in the workplace, like a lunchroom. In section 32.0.3 (1) Assessment of risks of violence — “An employer shall assess the risks of workplace violence that may arise from the nature of the workplace, the type of work or the conditions of work.”


Workplace violence programs must include:


  • Measures and procedures to control the risks identified in the assessment required under subsection 32.0.3(1) as likely to expose a worker to physical injury
  • Measures and procedures for summoning immediate assistance when workplace violence occurs or is likely to occur
  • Measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace violence to the employer or supervisor
  • Set out how the employer will investigate and deal with incidents or complaints of workplace violence
  • Any prescribed elements


Employers are also obligated to have a process to investigate incidents or complaints of violence and harassment. Employers are encouraged to seek necessary support and guidance when developing and implementing such policies and programs to ensure appropriate fit with their workplaces and compliance with legislation. organizations are encouraged to reference this sample workplace violence and harassment policy template.


For more information on your duties as an employer, please refer to your copy of the OHSA.


Violence, Aggression & Responsive Behaviours (VARB) Tools for the Healthcare Sector


According to a recent evidence-based evaluation, few resources and guidelines have achieved the kind of uptake and impact as the VARB toolkit for the prevention of workplace violence.


Each tool provides a simple step-by-step implementation process, customizable elements and a variety of support materials to enable robust workplace violence prevention program planning and implementation that meets the unique needs of your workplace. These tools can be implemented individually or as a whole, and are being used most often to identify and address safety risks, consider safety proactively in planning (i.e., new builds, units or programs), and to validate or improve existing practices.



For more information, please visit


Are you being harassed at work?


If you are being harassed at work, ensure you are aware of the organization’s prevention policy, procedures and who to inform. Generally, proactive actions may include:


  • Telling the person who is harassing you that the behaviour is unwelcome – be specific about the unwanted behaviour
  • Reporting it directly to your supervisor. If the harassment is threatening to your personal safety (i.e., assault, sexual assault, criminal harassment), report it to the police as well.
    • Write down where the harassment occurred, when it occurred, who engaged in the harassment, what specifically was said or done, if anyone saw it happen and your actions
    • Keep any correspondence you receive that is related to the harassment (i.e., sent emails, social media activity, text correspondence)
  • Seek emotional support from family, friends and other sources




Workplace Harassment and Bullying

Workplace Harassment eLearning | PSHSA

Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy Template | PSHSA

What can I do if I’m being harassed or bullied at work? Fact Sheet | PSHSA

Workplace Bullying Fact Sheet | PSHSA

Bullying in the Workplace Handbook | PSHSA

VARB Toolkit for the Healthcare Sector | PSHSA

Guide on Workplace Violence and Harassment | Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development


COVID-19 and Vaccine Resources

Get your Vaccine Receipt |

Book your Vaccine Appointment |

COVID-19 Resource Centre | PSHSA

COVID-19 Information for Ontario |

COVID-19 Rapid Testing and Screening in Workplaces | Government of Canada


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