Violence and Harassment at Work: Violence against workers is the direct consequence of an unsafe workplace

Violence and Harassment at Work - Group of workers holding various safe-work signs

Table of Contents

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This booklet was developed to help OPSEU/SEFPO locals build strength from within and organize effectively to protect members from violence and harassment in their workplaces. It contains tools and information about their rights under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and can aid in the empowerment and mobilization of members to ensure employers fulfill their obligations, to properly assess the workplace and control the hazards of violence and harassment in the workplace.

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Threats, Harassment and Abuse

It’s not part of the job!

It is an unfortunate reality, every day in workplaces right across Ontario, workers are physically assaulted, threatened, sexually or racially harassed, and verbally abused. All too often employers have accepted the notion that violence is simply part of the job. Some employers categorize these incidents as an unavoidable condition of employment and a risk that workers must assume in return for a job. Sometimes forgotten in this cycle, is the real and lingering impact to workers’ when there is continuous exposure or a constant fear of violence in the workplace.

Violence in the workplace impacts the working lives of far too many OPSEU/SEFPO members. Whether its community housing workers attempting to help the homeless amidst a housing shortage; Emergency Medical Services (EMS) first responders trying to save a life while being threatened at knifepoint; correctional workers trying to maintain a safe and secure environment, despite continuous staffing shortages and reduced self-defence options; workplace violence is an issue every day, seemingly everywhere that puts workers’ very lives at risk.

In June 2014, three unarmed youth services officers were suddenly attacked and brutally assaulted by the planned and coordinated actions of seven residents at a ministry operated youth facility in Brampton, ON. All of the officers sustained serious critical injuries. After recovering from their injuries, none of the officers returned to this workplace.

In February 2019, after months of being witnesses and victims of surging incidents of violent robberies and store thefts totaling potentially millions of dollars in lost revenue, OPSEU/SEFPO’s LBED members rallied and demanded their employer take action to protect their workplace. The LCBO yielded to the action of the members and among several changes, also made the decision to hire paid-duty police officers to routinely patrol several LCBO retail locations in Toronto.

In July 2020, 63year old Karen Gottschalk-Millar, a proud OPSEU/SEFPO member and a valued and respected Residential Counsellor at a group home in Kemptville, ON was murdered by a resident of a privately operated facility for developmentally disabled adults. Karen was working an overnight shift – alone!

The truth is – violence is NOT a condition of employment that anyone agrees to be subjected to when accepting any job. Agreeing to be assaulted, harassed, or abused is not written into a job description.

It has been said before, but it must be said again – enough is enough!

– OPSEU/SEFPO Worker Safety Unit



Occupational Health and Safety Act

After the 2010 workplace murder of Windsor nurse Lori Dupont, it took years of extensive lobbying and activism by OPSEU/SEFPO members and other unionized workers to persuade the government to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to recognize violence and harassment as workplace hazards.

The introduction of “Bill 168” in April 2009 called for amendments to the Act that would place a number of requirements on employers. These include:

  • Development of workplace violence and harassment policies,
  • The policy must be posted at a conspicuous location in the workplace.
  • Workers must be provided information and instruction about the policies and the workplace violence prevention program,
  • The employer must perform risk assessments,
  • Employers must implement a means to summon immediate assistance and put in place controls to address the risks of violence that are identified in the risk assessment.
  • If domestic violence could likely expose workers to physical injury in the workplace, the employer shall take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of the worker
  • Workers must be advised if they may come into contact with any person(s) with a history of violence in workplace

These measures came finally came into effect June 15, 2010.

In 2016, “Bill 132”, the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (Supporting Survivors and Challenging Sexual Violence and Harassment) amended six statutes, including the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The added changes included:

  • Entitlement for complainants and respondents to receive written investigation results and information about corrective action (if any) that’s been taken,
  • Employers must maintain confidentiality as much as they can until necessary to investigate or take remedial action,
  • The requirement and ability for Ministry ordered investigations that “must be appropriate in the circumstances”. This means that workers can expect fairness in the process, whether they are complainants or respondents.

The Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD) has created a Workplace Harassment Code of Practice to help interpret the amendments. Codes of practice are guidelines that explain how employers can comply with OHSA requirements.

With employer obligations regarding harassment now strengthened, and the workplace violence provisions in the Act initiated over thirteen years ago, workers and activists need to actively assert their rights for safer and healthier workplaces, free of all undesirable behaviours such as workplace bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination, threats of violence, actual or attempted violence, and being subjected to being a witness of reoccurring trauma in their workplaces. The fact is, workers can suffer detrimental and life-altering emotional effects from all of these behaviours. Therefore, prevention is critical.

The job ahead for all of us, including employers, is to work to prevent occurrences, make the necessary changes to prevent reoccurrences as well as to fight for and demand better support and appropriate compensation that includes income replacement for workers who are unfortunately injured physically or emotionally as a result of these types of “people” hazards at work.

Our objectives are clear:

  • We want an end to all forms of workplace violence and harassment, before more workers are killed, injured, or psychologically harmed.
  • We want employers to comply with the Act.
  • We want written workplace policies that tolerate no violence, abuse, or harassment.
  • We want proper assessments of the hazard of violence in the workplace and regular reviews of those assessments, which includes consulting workers and joint health and safety committees (JHSC) or Health and Safety Representatives (HSR).
  • We want effective procedures to assess potentially violent behaviour.
  • We want effective programs and procedures to back up the policies and protect workers.
  • We want our work and our work environment designed to protect and promote health and safety.
  • We want an information system that gives workers timely and accurate information about persons with a history of violence.
  • We want appropriate staff levels and scheduling to prevent and deal with violence.
  • We want regular staff training in recognizing and defusing potentially violent situations.
  • We want effective security measures and communication systems.
  • We want protection plans for workers at risk of domestic violence that may enter the workplace.
  • We want effective follow-up to violent incidents, including mandatory reporting and investigation.
  • We want support for victims of violence and harassment that includes critical incident stress debriefing, counseling and when necessary, return to work modification and accommodation.
  • We want the MLITSD to enforce the health and safety Act in all areas of workplace violence.
  • We want employers held accountable for failure to comply with their legislated obligations to protect workers from violence, harassment and bullying in the workplace.



Our motto is clear:

Kill a worker – go to jail!



What is violence in the workplace?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act defines workplace violence as:

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

OHSA Sec 1

OPSEU/SEFPO considers workplace violence to be any act of aggression that causes physical or emotional harm to a worker, including:


Any attempt to inflict physical harm on a worker, the worker’s family, or property, including aggressive acts which do not involve contact or result in physical injury.


Any verbal or physical action indicating an intent to inflict injury on a worker, the  worker’s family or property.

Domestic Violence

Violence from a current or former intimate partner that would likely  expose a worker to physical injury that may occur in the workplace.

The Act now requires employers to put measures in place to protect a worker from domestic violence that may enter the workplace. If an employer is made aware of the threat of domestic violence, the Act requires the employer to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of the worker. An example of a precaution could be the development of a safety plan to protect the worker(s) at risk.

What is harassment in the workplace?

The Act defines workplace sexual harassment as:

“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

“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”.

OHSA Sec 1

The Act defines workplace harassment as:

“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

OHSA Sec 1

Forms of harassment include:

Verbal abuse

Unwanted comment that offends, humiliates, demeans, or engenders anxiety or fear.


Repeated, mistreatment, verbal abuse, or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with work.

Sexual harassment

Any unwanted verbal or physical sexual attention including patting or touching, sexual invitation, leering, displaying pornography, stalking and rape.

Racial/religious harassment

Any unwanted comment referring to the worker’s religious affiliation or racial background that attempts to humiliate or demean a worker.

It is also important to remember, the Act defines a “workplace” to be:

“any land, premises, location or thing at, upon, in or near which a worker works”.

OHSA Sec. 1

How extensive is violence in the workplace?

The true extent of violence in the workplace is not clear. Many attacks go unreported, and injuries reported to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) may not be clearly reported as a violence-related occurrence. The available statistics on violence and harassment in the workplace are staggering and very revealing. All forms of research indicate theses very real hazards are on the rise right across Canada and the impacts can be found in every sector.

Harassment and Violence in Canadian Workplaces research report

In March 2022, Researchers from the Canadian Labour Congress and their partners at Western University and the University of Toronto released results from their survey on harassment and violence in Canadian workplaces.

The survey encompassed a wide cross section of workers and workplaces with nearly 5,000 participants. Of note, workplaces such as healthcare, education, social services, and public administration represented the majority of the survey sample size. The results of the survey are troubling to say the least. Some of the findings include:

  • 88% of workers who experienced harassment and violence were “transferred, suspended, fired, or lost a shift” due to the harassment and violence
  • 70% of workers who experienced harassment and violence had to miss work because of the negative effects.
  • 7 in 10 workers have experienced a form of harassment and violence at work.
  • Nearly 1 in 2 workers have experienced sexual harassment and violence in the last two years.
  • Women, transgender, non-binary, and gender-diverse workers are experiencing higher rates of harassment and violence.
  • Indigenous survey respondents experienced significantly higher rates of harassment and violence (79%) and sexual harassment and violence (47.8%)

Click here to view the Harassment and Violence in Canadian Workplaces Research Report

Harassment in Canadian Workplaces, Insights on Canadian Society

A December 2018 Statistics Canada report entitled Harassment in Canadian Workplaces, Insights on Canadian Society, revealed some truly staggering facts. They include:

  • Overall, 19% of women and 13% of men reported that they had experienced harassment in their workplace in the previous year.
  • The most common type of workplace harassment was verbal abuse—13% of women and 10% of men.
  • Among women who reported sexual harassment, more than half were targeted by clients or customers.
  • Workers in health occupations are the most likely to report having been harassed on the job in the past year.
  • About 47% of men and 34% of women who had been harassed by a supervisor or manager had a weak sense of belonging to their current organization.

Click here to view the Harassment in Canadian Workplaces study

Ontario’s latest health and safety stats

In Ontario, archived WSIB statistical records indicate a sharp rise in the total number of allowed lost-time injuries for schedule 1 and schedule 2 employers for incidents directly related to violence and harassment in the workplace. The health care sector had 627 such incidents in 2008 and as many as 846 incidents by 2017. Meanwhile, violence and harassment for schedule 2 employers increased from 1,053 to 1,732 within the same time-period.

Click here to view the complete Archived Statistical Chart

Experiences of violence and harassment at work: A global first survey

Experiences of violence and harassment at work: A global first survey is a 2022 report released by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Gallup, an American analytics and advisory company based in Washington, D.C.

Based on interviews with nearly 125,000 individuals in 121 countries and territories, the report findings focussed exclusively on 74,364 respondents who were in employment at the time of the interviews. It clearly identifies the issue of workplace violence and harassment is a definite problem for workers worldwide. Arguably, some of the most alarming revelations from this report include:

  • More than 3 out of 5 victims said they had experienced violence and harassment at work multiple times.

According to the report, it takes more than one incident of violence and harassment before some victims disclose their experiences to someone else.

The reasons given by victims (survivors) for failing or delaying to speak out about these incidents included respondents expressing they…:

  • “Think it’s a waste of time” (55%)
  • “Fear for their reputation” (44.5%)
  • “Think the procedures at work are unclear” (42.5%)
  • “Are concerned about people finding out at work” (40.8%)
  • “Don’t know what to do” (38.3%)
  • “Fear some form of punishment” (33.2%)

Click here to review Experiences of violence and harassment at work: A global first survey



What are the health effects of violence?

Workplace Violence can cause more than physical pain

In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) classifies workplace violence into two broad categories:

  • Physical violence – the use of physical force leading to physical and psychological harm
  • Emotional violence – the use of nonphysical means leading to psychological harm.

The 2020 Canadian study Workplace Violence among British Columbia Nurses expands these categories when it found from the over 4,000 nurses who participated:

  • Direct involvement in emotional abuse (e.g., insults, gestures) (83%),
  • Direct threat of assault (e.g., verbal, or written threats intending harm) (78%),
  • Direct physical assault (e.g., bitten, hit, pushed) (67%),
  • Direct verbal sexual harassment (e.g., unwanted intimate remarks of a sexual nature) (55%), and
  • Direct sexual assault (e.g., forcible touching and fondling) (11%)

Perhaps not surprising, the study also consistently found patients and their visitors to be the most common instigators of violence towards nurses, accounting for over 90% of physical and nonphysical workplace violence.

Click here to read Workplace Violence among British Columbia Nurses

Victims of workplace violence suffer more than physical injury and pain. Assault victims have a high risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an acute psychological reaction to extreme stress common among combat veterans and victims of terrorism.

Symptoms of PTSD can include severe anxiety, depression, fatigue, emotional preoccupations with the event, loss of concentration, flashbacks, and nightmares. It can impair ability to work and can damage family and social relations.



What are the health effects of harassment?

Workers who are subject to constant verbal abuse or harassment, or who work with constant fear of assault are chronically stressed. They are at high risk for digestive disorders and heart disease and potentially a host of other health concerns

A daily dose of emotional stress can lead to serious physical and psychological problems. Common symptoms include chronic fatigue, fear and anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, and possibly even symptoms like those seen in post-traumatic stress disorder.

Research identifies harassment as a contributing risk factor to several “Psychosocial Hazards” that may be present in the workplace. When combined, these psychosocial hazards contribute to decreases in a worker’s involvement and influence in the workplace, work life balance, personal and professional growth, and overall, the mental and physical health of the worker.

The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW), in partnership with the Mental Injury Tool Group (MIT) has developed an online resource called, which features a survey you can take as an individual and as an organization. It can help in identifying and eliminating psychological hazards and improve the workplace environment.

Click here to view more information or take the survey – as an individual or organization



Myths about Workplace Violence

It is essential that workplace violence be seen as serious, recognizable, and preventable – just like any other health and safety hazard. There are some myths about workplace violence that act as serious barriers to prevention. These need to be debunked.

Myth: Workers accept that risks are inherent in the job

Mental health facilities, correctional facilities and several other workplaces are widely viewed by some as inherently dangerous. It is assumed that workers who take these jobs are paid to accept the inherent dangers and shouldn’t complain about something that cannot be changed.

The reasoning behind this is scientifically wrong. While violence cannot be completely eliminated, it can be significantly reduced. The fact that a job may be inherently prone to violence does not mean that nothing should be done. It only means that extra efforts need to be made to ensure the worker’s security. This includes providing workers with enough resources, training, staffing and the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to enable workers to work as safely as possible.

Myth: Workplace violence is random, unpredictable, and therefore uncontrollable

In fact, most violent acts are predictable, even in non-violent jobs where “random” acts occur. Experience and research demonstrate that the potential for workplace violence can be assessed, and measures can be put in place to reduce and even eliminate the risks. Experts in the field have developed a detailed list of risk factors that are good predictors of violence.

What factors contribute to the risk of workplace violence?

Environmental factors

Environmental factors that predict violence include; workplaces in a known violent neighborhood or in a location at risk of a violent crime, isolated workplaces, or workplaces with little street life such as an industrial park.

Work practices

Work practices that predict violence include; low staffing levels, working alone, handling cash, long waits for services by clients or a lack of services and programs for clients. Having to say “no” to a client.

Human factors

Persons more likely to commit violent acts include; gang members, relatives or visitors of injured persons, drug users, people with a history of violent behaviour, and abusive former or current intimate partners.

Higher risk occupations

Higher risk occupations include: workers who work with the developmentally handicapped; workers who provide care, advice and information such as health care workers, mental health workers, public health nurses, emergency services workers, admissions workers and social services workers; workers who deal with public complaints such as welfare workers and unemployment workers; workers who enforce laws and conduct inspections such as children’s aid workers, labour inspectors, law enforcement and corrections officers and security guards; workers who work alone or who work at late hours such as health care workers, custodians and inspectors; workers who handle cash or valuable goods.



Why are workers assaulted?

Violence is not an inevitable consequence of working with people who may be potentially violent. Violence is a consequence of an unsafe work environment – an environment in which the hazards are not properly assessed or controlled.

Patients or clients who may be frustrated, anxious, mentally disturbed or under the influence of drugs are potentially violent. They often lash out at whoever is closest – often the worker. Conditions resulting from cuts to health institutions and social service agencies often contribute to frustration. It’s a vicious cycle. Cuts make it hard for workers to provide the care clients need. Clients suffer, become frustrated and lash out.

The following factors increase the risk of workplace violence:

  • Understaffing, particularly working alone or in small numbers.
  • Working at night or in the early morning hours.
  • Service delivery delays that cause client or customer frustration and anger.
  • Handling cash, goods, or medications without effective violence prevention measures in place.
  • Working with unstable or volatile clients particularly if they have little or no support.
  • Providing “forced care,” such as court-ordered medications or seclusion.
  • Working in a community-based setting such as home care or developmental services where workplace violence prevention policies and programs do not exist.
  • Transporting people without effective violence prevention measures in place.
  • Securing, transporting, or protecting valuable goods without effective violence prevention measures in place.

In addition to the factors described above, employer actions or inactions may also contribute to an increased risk of violence against workers. If employers fail to ensure that the following steps are taken, violence risks may increase:

  • Properly assess and identify hazards of violence.
  • Develop and implement proper policies, controls, and training programs.
  • Warn workers about persons with a history of violence.
  • Design safety into the workplace.
  • Develop and implement emergency and communication procedures.
  • Train workers to recognize and defuse potentially violent persons and violent situations.
  • Have a plan to protect a worker from domestic violence that might occur in the workplace.
  • A written commitment to review policies, controls, and training programs to identify effectiveness.
  • Consistent and thorough compliance with 32.0.3(4) of the OHSA.

With regard to the overall physical design or layout of the workplace, employers rarely consult workers, the JHSC or HSRs. Local police services are a good resource for assistance for any workplace seeking to reduce unwanted behaviours, including preventing potential criminal activity by utilizing a philosophy known as “CPTED” (pronounced sep-ted). Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, employs a variety of principles including; access control, natural surveillance, activity support, maintenance and more. Using CPTED principles can reduce the risks of unwanted behaviours at your workplace. Consider contacting your local police service for more information.

Because workplace violence can be predicted, the best way to mitigate its impact to workers is to conduct thorough and routine workplace violence assessments. The Public Services Health and Safety Association (PSHSA) has created a violence risk-assessment tool that can be used for any sector or workplace.

What are the employer’s obligations with respect to workplace violence and harassment?

OHSA – Part III.0.1 Violence and Harassment. Under Sec. 32 of the Act, the employer must:

  • Prepare policies to address workplace violence and workplace harassment and post them in a conspicuous place in the workplace.
  • Perform an assessment of the risks of workplace violence to workers and provide the results of the assessment to the Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) or Health and Safety representative.
  • Develop and maintain workplace violence and harassment programs.
  • Provide information and instruction to workers on the content of the workplace violence and harassment policies and programs.
  • The workplace violence and workplace harassment policies must be reviewed at least annually.
  • The employer is required to reassess the risks of violence “as often as is necessary” to ensure the policy and program continue to protect workers.

The workplace violence program must contain:

  • Measures and procedures to control risks identified in the risk assessment.
  • Measures and procedures for summoning immediate assistance when workplace violence occurs or is likely to occur.
  • Measures and procedures for reporting workplace violence.
  • Set out how the employer will investigate and deal with incidents or complaints of workplace violence.

Domestic violence

The employer must put measures in place to protect a worker from domestic violence that may enter the workplace. If an employer becomes aware of the threat of domestic violence, he/she will be expected to develop a safety plan to protect the worker(s) at risk. The safety plan might include things such as increased security measures, alternate work arrangements and/or an emergency communications plan.

Provision of information under workplace violence program

The employer must warn workers about the threat of violence from individuals (“violence from a person”). This includes violence from any person that the worker can be expected to encounter in the course of their work – patients, doctors, families, clients, customers, residents, inmates, and other workers – if there is a risk that the worker will be exposed to physical injury.

This implies some sort of flagging system so that all workers who need to know about the hazard learn about it in advance. Flagging programs should not be vague. They must record full information about the triggers, behaviours, and include or list the appropriate safety measures to reduce the risk for violence. Upon admission, all patients, clients, and family members must be asked to share information on triggers, responses, and to provide preventative action ideas. All through the care continuum there must be a process to record and flag behaviours of concern. The flag information needs to be accessible to everyone coming into contact with the client.

Note: The employers’ duties to provide this information under OHSA, supersede those of other legislation.

Simply stated, the employer cannot refuse to communicate information about the hazard of violence by hiding behind privacy legislation:

“Despite anything in any general or special Act, the provisions of this Act and the regulations prevail”

OHSA Sec. 2 Sub 2

However, employers and supervisors must not disclose more information than is reasonably necessary for the protection of a worker from physical injury.

Workplace harassment policy and program

In addition to developing a workplace harassment policy, the employer must develop and implement a program. The employer must consult the JHSC or the HSR in the development and maintenance of the harassment program. The harassment program must be reviewed at least annually. A reasonable action taken by an employer or a supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers, or the workplace is not workplace harassment.

The workplace harassment program must contain:

  • Measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment, including how to report to an alternate person if the employer or supervisor is the alleged harasser
  • Set out how the employer will investigate and deal with incidents and complaints. Note, the Act states that employers must conduct an investigation that is appropriate in the circumstances. According to the MOL Code of Practice, the investigation must be timely, and the investigation must be objective. The investigator may not be a person with direct control over the complainant.
  • Set out how the employer will protect confidentiality until and as necessary to conduct the investigation, take corrective action, or disclose by law.
  • Set out how the employer will share investigation results and information about corrective action with the complainant and respondent.

Provision of information under workplace harassment program

  • The employer must provide workers with information and instruction regarding the harassment policy, program, controls, and any other required information.
  • Complainants and respondents are entitled to receive sufficient information to enable them to participate in the investigation.
  • Complainants and respondents (if the respondent is an employee) must be provided with the results of the investigation (at least a written summary of the findings) and information on any corrective action taken.

What are the “seven steps” that make an investigation “appropriate in the circumstances?”

The Code of Practice outlines seven steps that make an investigation appropriate:

  1. Investigation kept confidential unless necessary to conduct the investigation and unless required by law. Employers will remind complainants, respondents, and witnesses not to discuss any investigation. It will be as closed a loop as possible.
  2. Interview both the complainant and the alleged harasser.
  3. Give the alleged harasser the opportunity to respond to the specific allegations and hear again from the complainant if necessary.
  4. Independently interview all witnesses.
  5. The investigator should collect and review any relevant documents.
  6. The investigator must take detailed notes of all interviews.
  7. The investigator must prepare a written report, setting out all steps in the investigation, the specific allegations, the responses, witness accounts, evidence gathered, and the conclusion reached. The report goes to the person responsible for action.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has prepared an extensive list of general elements that should be part of any effective health and safety program for any workplace or sector.

What powers do MLITSD inspectors have regarding harassment investigations?

Inspectors from the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development can order that an investigation be conducted by a third-party, that the investigation be in writing, and that it be done at the expense of the employer. Inspectors can also specify the knowledge, experience, or qualifications of the investigator. These types of orders will likely occur where an employer’s harassment policy and program are deficient.

What does the JHSC have the right to know?

The JHSC or health and safety representative have the right to be consulted, (give feedback and make recommendations) regarding the development and maintenance of the workplace harassment policy and program.

Investigation reports are not considered “reports” for the purposes of disclosure to the JHSC or the health and safety representative. However, OPSEU/SEFPO recommends that, the JHSC or health and safety representative (quarterly and as part of the annual review) request anonymized information, such as: number of investigations opened/closed; average investigation timelines; number externally/internally handled; general information on outcomes and steps or programs implemented to prevent reoccurrence, harassment prevention controls, data about implementation, and effectiveness of the policy.

The 2016 enactment of the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, mandates colleges and universities also report this information directly to the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities.

Employers, supervisors, and workers have obligations to address workplace violence and harassment under other sections of the Act:

The workplace violence sections of the OHSA is very explicit with regard to an employer’s duties to protect workers and provides this clarity:

“For greater certainty, the employer duties set out in section 25, the supervisor duties set out in section 27, and the worker duties set out in section 28 apply, as appropriate, with respect to workplace violence.”

Sec. 32.0.5 Sub. 1

For example, employers are required to:

“Take every reasonable precaution for the protection of the worker.”

OHSA Sec. 25 Sub. 2(h)

Employers must ensure that staffing, training, and measures and procedures are adequate to protect workers from violence. MLITSD Inspectors have jurisdiction and a responsibility when presented with enough information to assess the adequacy of staffing levels and the power to order appropriate staffing. MLITSD Inspectors also have the power and responsibility to obtain relevant information about a client’s propensity for violence in assessing the potential risk of injury to workers. (See Appeal Decisions: OHS 93/01A St. Thomas Psychiatric Hospital; 92/09 Adult Occupational Centre, Edgar)

Additionally, MLITSD inspectors may order risk assessments to be redone if there are changes to numbers of patients or their potential for violence or if staffing levels change.

“An inspector may in writing order that the following be in written form:

  1. The assessment of the risks of workplace violence required under subsection 32.0.3 (1).
  2. A reassessment required under subsection 32.0.3 (4)”

OHSA Sec. 55.2

The employer must ensure that workers are trained and informed to deal safely with potentially violent situations and persons. Failing to do this is a violation of the Act which may be reported to the MLITSD.

“Acquaint the worker with the hazard and how to handle it safely”.

OHSA Sec. 25 Sub. 2(d)

The employer has a duty to assess whether a client or existing workplace environment has potential for violence, to warn you if this is so, and to instruct you how to deal safely with the situation.

“Appoint a competent person as a supervisor”.

OHSA Sec. 25 Sub. 2(c)

The supervisor must have a working knowledge of the Act and regulations, the work being supervised, training and experience to organize the work and any potential or actual danger to health or safety in the workplace.

“Provide the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative with copies of any health and safety reports in the employers’ possession.”

OHSA Sec. 25 Sub. 2(l)

This includes all incidents of violence disabling a worker from their usual work or requiring medical attention. Failure on the part of an employer to share this prescribed information is a violation of the OHSA.

On July 1, 2021, O. Reg. 420/21 was enacted and provides more clarity on the information employers must share with the JHSC, health and safety representative and the union.

Click here to review the regulation and the prescribed information that must be shared



Assessing and controlling workplace violence

As previously mentioned, the OHSA requires employers to conduct a risk assessment for workplace violence and provide the results to the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative. Assessing the extent of violence and the conditions that cause and contribute to it is an essential first step in controlling this serious workplace hazard.

What is the difference between a hazard and a risk?

A hazard is something with the potential to cause harm. A hazard has the potential to cause death, injury, damage, or other harm.

A risk is the chance that somebody could be harmed by the hazard. A risk calculates how likely it is that someone will be hurt, and potentially how severely.

Consider a stove. The hazard of a stove is to cause burns on your skin or burning from foods on the stove. The risk of harm is low for an infant who cannot reach or use the stove. The risk goes up with a toddler or young child as they grow, as they may become curious and play with the buttons on the stove. The risk can be very high when an adult with butterfly sleeves is cooking on the stove. The risk is also heightened if a pot handle is sticking out from the stove. Now, let’s relate this example to workplace violence in health care.

Workplace violence is a hazard that healthcare workers face every day. The risk goes up in situations of forced care (e.g., court-ordered medication and the patient refuses to take the medication), where situations are rife with trauma, where patients have long waits, where patients are left in hallways, where patients must be transported within and outside of a facility, and many other contextual situations that arise every day. A risk assessment needs to consider the various locations and variety of the work, as well as the level of risk faced by all types of workers in the workplace.

In layman’s terms, a risk assessment is a systematic process that involves identifying all of the hazards and related risks that workers are exposed to in a workplace and to develop controls to address those risks in the most reasonable extent possible.

A risk assessment should include:

1. A review of all violent incidents, WSIB claims and accident reports.

This will give you some idea of the extent of violence and what may contribute to it. But remember, this may just be the tip of the iceberg. Violent incidents are frequently not reported. Where workers continue to experience injuries from workplace violence, the measures taken to control violence are clearly ineffective and need to be re-examined and improved. The WSIB, upon request, will provide to an employer, a worker, committee, health and safety representative or trade union an annual summary of data relating to the number of non-fatal cases that required medical aid without lost workdays.

Click here to view OHSA Section 12 – Summary to be furnished

2. A pre-risk assessment survey of all workers.

A questionnaire completed by workers is a useful device to get more information. The survey can indicate the extent of violence. It can also identify some of the factors that cause or increase the risk. Sometimes there are preconceived ideas of who is or is not exposed to violence and some workers may be overlooked. A survey will also provide important information about whether the workers feel that current precautions are effective and what other ideas workers have to prevent harm. The survey should collect information about experiencing or witnessing undesirable behaviours (verbal abuse all the way to assault), whether employees feel safe, prepared to handle a violent situation, whether adequate control measures exist, improvements needed, summoning assistance adequacy, and reporting willingness.

Note: Contact OPSEU/SEFPO’s health and safety unit for more information about a pre-risk assessment survey.

3. A review of the employer’s policies and programs for controlling violence.

Are they being implemented? Are they effective and adequate? Are emergency and security procedures in place? Is there an effective means of summoning immediate assistance?

4. An inspection of the physical design of the work environment including parking facilities.

Assess it for both its security (for example, hidden corners, adequate lighting, and isolated areas) and its potential effect on client behaviour (noisy, crowded). When conducting a workplace inspection, remember the Act defines a “workplace” to be: “any land, premises, location or thing at, upon, in or near which a worker works”.

5. An assessment of the organization of the work.

Does the way the work is done contribute to aggressive behaviour? Are shift schedules set up to minimize the risk of violence? Do workers work alone?

a)    An assessment of staffing levels and ratios.

Heavy workloads and extended workdays can compromise workers’ ability to recognize and deal with potential violence. Staff shortages can lead to diminished care which can frustrate clients. Are staff assigned or incentivized to work alone, and are appropriate precautions put in place when this occurs? Is there a “surge policy” or similar policy that outlines measures to increase staffing in cases of higher-than-normal client attendance/needs, increased patient acuity, emergencies, or staffing shortages?

b)   A review of the employer’s client assessment process.

Does the employer have a process for evaluating a client’s potential for violent and aggressive behaviour while in the workplace upon admission and thereafter throughout their care? Is there a procedure for notifying staff of a client’s potential for violent behaviour? Are potential “triggers” noted and known by all staff who may come into contact? Does the flagging system record information regarding specific behaviours, responses, and appropriate safety measures that work? Are appropriate precautions put in place when dealing with a potentially violent client, e.g., an individual client risk assessment and safety plan?

c)    An assessment of the employer’s security system.

Are trained security personnel available? Who provides the security function, and how are they trained? Are non-security staff aware of the procedures when security personnel summoned? Is security response used proactively when desired before something happens, or are they used only in response to emergencies? Are alarm systems in place? Are emergency response teams set up? Is an emergency code system in place? Are video cameras available?

Are personal alarms, panic buttons and two-way communication devices available? Is police liaison established? Is a security plan available for workers who may be at risk from an abusive partner? Are any of these measures regularly tested and routinely practiced by staff?

d)   An assessment of the employer’s education and training program.

Is there an effective program to train staff about violence policies, recognizing and defusing potentially violent situations and how to implement appropriate safety measures? If necessary, is self-defence training provided? Have similar or other workplaces been consulted on work practices and standards that can enhance current workplace procedures?

Click here to view OHSA Section 9 s(18)(d)(ii) “obtain information from employer”


e)    An assessment of the employer’s post assault counseling and assistance program.

Is a specially trained counseling team or professional counselors available to assist a worker with the possible post-traumatic stress? Is there a process of client re-assignment to accommodate an injured worker’s return to work?

Click here to access our Return to Work (RTW) Tip sheet


What measures can be put in place to control violence?

As with any other workplace hazard, the employer has the responsibility to put in place measures to minimize the likelihood of workplace violence.

Workplace violence can usually be prevented because it is a predictable hazard. In almost every case there are solutions. Some are easy and cheap, while others are more difficult and costly. Control measures may differ from occupation to occupation.

Workplace violence should be approached in the same way as other hazards. First, identify and assess the hazard. Next, develop control measures by applying the same hierarchy of controls used for traditional workplace hazards.

At the source

Substitution: While we can’t always substitute one client or patient for another one, in some cases, substitution may be possible. For example, it has become more common to house more violent patients or residents in settings that are not properly equipped to handle this level of risk. The physical facilities may not be adequate and/or staff trained for low-risk clients may not be equipped to handle highly disturbed or violent clients.

In these cases, it may be necessary to transfer a high-risk person to a facility better equipped to handle them.

Along the path

Engineering Controls: These may include elements such as security locks, plexiglass or other barriers, and devices such as panic alarms, closed circuit TV cameras, and mobile phones. Safety should be a prioritized element of workplace design with consideration given to visibility of employees, isolated areas, counter height and depth, lighting, building access to employees and non-employees, employee escape routes or safe rooms that physically and securely separate staff from clients.

At the worker

Administrative Controls: These controls include workplace policies, procedures, and work processes such as safe staffing levels, restrictions on working alone, client assessments, advising staff of potentially violent clients, recording all incidents of physical or verbal abuse including “near misses” and training in assessing and defusing potential violence. In some workplaces self-defence training may be necessary. Note that training by itself will only create an impossible burden of responsibility on the employees for their safety. Training must be combined with other program elements.

Click here to access our Near Misses Tip Sheet


Training: Training is always necessary but should not be the primary approach to address the hazard. Training relies on human beings’ behaviour and skills. Training the worker provides an extra line of defense that should be used along with other measures that are further upstream in the prevention process.

For example, at the source and along the path controls for workplace violence might be things like ensuring continuity of staff so that effective relationships can grow between workers and patients/clients and where workplace violence is reduced, or having extra staff present where the risk of violence is high to reduce severity of injury, rather than simply giving the worker training and relying on the worker to deal with all the violence at the latest stage.

Lack of adequate worker training for workplace violence: There are many disputes about what constitutes adequate training to deal with workplace violence. Employers in the health care and community sectors pursue “least restraint” approaches where de-escalation interventions are prioritized. While there is no doubt that de-escalation is always the desired approach (and workers all need to be trained in de-escalation), many employers do not adequately train workers or augment the current training given to workers to deal with situations where de-escalation does not or has not shown to work. Eventually, these situations give way to violence. Employers will often lay the fault of the ensuing violence at the feet of the worker as evidenced by far too many incident review reports highlighting “more training for the worker” as the lone mitigation strategy to prevent a reoccurrence. Workers’ training needs to prepare them for all the types of situations that may arise in their workplace. Workplace parties need to be forthright when discussing violence in the workplace – including review of the training provided and its effectiveness.

What are your legal rights and protections?

The Occupational Health and Safety Act

The MLITSD has a duty and responsibility to compel employers to take measures for the protection of workers from violence.

As mentioned previously, it is the employer’s responsibility under Part III.0.1 Violence and of the Occupational Health and Safety Act to take specific steps to protect workers from the risk of violence and harassment. Also, the employer has the responsibility under the Act, Sec. 25 Sub. 2(h), to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker, with respect to the risk of violence.

How can a JHSC, health and safety representative or lone worker utilize the Act effectively?

1)    Simultaneously use:
  1. your individual rights to raise concerns,
  2. your collective rights in the union, and
  3. your statutory right to have collective input as joint health and safety committee members or as a health and safety representatives to get workplace improvements

For most employers to make changes, they wait to see that the change is being sought by more than one individual. Therefore, the extent to which we can get all workers, the union representatives, and the JHSC members all reporting the same hazards and gaps and insisting on similar improvements in the employer’s safety precautions, the better chance there is that conditions will improve.

At every forum the employer attends, we want them to see and hear about the health and safety shortfall. This means workers report hazards to their supervisors and follow up for response. This means JHSCs and HSRs have agenda items at committee meetings, report progress in minutes and link with the union and the membership, write recommendations and collect employer written responses, use inspections, investigations, training, and any other tool or strategy to pursue the issue. It means the union uses its power to negotiate collective agreement language, spread the word in newsletters, mobilize members and file grievances, all the while supporting workers and the JHSC/HSR in their roles.

Click here to access our JHSC/H&S Rep Recommendation Template


2)   File a complaint with the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development

If you and other workers have been unable to resolve a workplace violence issue through your supervisor and your JHSC or Health and Safety representative, call the nearest MLITSD health and safety office to file a complaint. Request that a ministry inspector come to the workplace to investigate your complaint. Follow this up in writing.

If you are assaulted or threatened in the workplace, depending on the circumstances, the police must be notified. Even if the police have been notified, you should also notify the MLITSD which has a role to play to ensure that employers are in compliance with the Act. Tell the MLITSD that you wish to report a violation of the Act that has resulted in an assault, or a violation of the Act that places you at risk of physical harm. Ask them to investigate the workplace, write corrective orders or prosecute the employer for not protecting workers.

An internal policy of the MLITSD requires that all complaints and work refusals from workers with a limited right to refuse unsafe work, must be investigated on a priority complaint basis. Inform the MLITSD if this applies to you and remind them of the policy.

Click here to find contact information for the MLITSD


3)   Exercise your right to refuse unsafe work

Most workers have an unrestricted right to refuse work they believe to be unsafe. The Bill 168 amendments to the Act in 2010 further clarified that workers have the right to refuse work when there is a hazard of violence.

However, under Sec. 43 Sub. 2 of the Act the following workers have a limitation on their right to refuse:

  • a person employed in a police force to which the Police Services Act applies;
  • a firefighter;
  • a person employed in the operation of,
    • a correctional institution or facility, place of secure custody or temporary detention designated under section 24.1 of the Young Offenders Act (Canada), whether in accordance with section 88 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act or otherwise, a place of temporary detention under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (Canada) or similar institution, facility, or place.
    • a hospital, sanatorium, long-term care home, psychiatric institution, mental health centre or rehabilitation facility,
    • a residential group home or other facility for persons with behavioural or emotional problems or
    • a physical, mental, or developmental disability,
    • an ambulance service or a first aid clinic or station,
    • a laboratory operated by the Crown or licensed under the Laboratory and Specimen Collection Centre Licensing Act, or,
    • a laundry, food service, power plant or technical service or facility used in conjunction with an institution, facility or service listed above.

These workers have the right to refuse work that they believe is likely to endanger their health and safety, except where:

  • the hazard is a normal condition of employment,
  • or refusal to work would directly endanger the safety of another person.
Does this mean that these workers cannot refuse to be exposed to violence because the job carries the potential for violence?

No! These workers may have the right to refuse if the normal precautions or equipment to manage risk are absent or if the worker is untrained in the proper procedures and believes their safety is at risk. If an assignment requires the worker to deviate from established safe practice, and the worker believes their safety is at risk, they may also have the right to refuse (See Appeal Decision: OHS 94-21). Each situation must be assessed specifically.

Under what conditions can a worker refuse work?

Workers can refuse any work they have “reason to believe” is likely to endanger their health or safety. The danger does not have to be immediately life threatening. The right to refuse is not available to workers who are being harassed, unless there is a physical threat to their safety.

The worker does not have to be immediately exposed to the hazard. The Adjudicator has ruled that a refusal could be based on conditions which might endanger in the future.

(See Appeal Decision: OHS 85-22).

Click here for the OPSEU/SEFPO Work Refusal Tip Sheet


4)   Appeal an inspector’s decision

An inspector’s ruling that a hazard is not likely to endanger, or that a worker cannot refuse particular work, may be appealed under Sec. 61 of the Act.

How are appeals dealt with by the OLRB?

Anyone who disagrees with an inspector’s decision or order can file an appeal with the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) in writing within 30 days of the decision.

All OLRB forms and Information Bulletins are available on the provincial government website. The Board will send a copy of the completed Appeal Form (A-65) and a blank Response to Appeal Form (A-66) to all the responding parties to the appeal. The parties to the appeal usually include the worker, the union, the employer, and the inspector. The board may affirm or rescind an inspector’s orders or substitute its findings. The board’s decision is final.

Click here to access the OLRB Forms web page

Note: Contact OPSEU/SEFPO’s health and safety unit or a Staff Representative as soon as possible when considering filing an appeal

5)   File a reprisal complaint

Sec. 50 of the OHSA reads: “… prohibits employers from disciplining, penalizing, threatening or dismissing a worker for acting in compliance or seeking protection under the Ac t…”

Unionized workers can either file a grievance or file a complaint to the OLRB when they believe that they have been reprised against. Both types of arbitrators will have the same remedial authority to hear and decide the matter. Workers are not permitted to pursue the same-fact scenario in both grievance arbitration and at the OLRB. Workers must choose a forum, and it becomes a “one stop shop” to decide the issues. Case law says that “election of a forum” occurs when a worker or union takes steps to schedule arbitration (not necessarily at a stage one or two of a grievance procedure).

A worker can file a complaint to the OLRB if they believe that their employer has reprised against them for their health and safety activities. The worker must file a Reprisal Complaint (A-53) with the OLRB providing the details of the complaint. Once this is filed, the board will assign a labour relations officer who will meet with the parties, investigate, and attempt a settlement. If no settlement is reached, the Board will hold a formal hearing at which the employer must prove it did not contravene the Act.

Note: Contact the OPSEU/SEFPO health and safety unit or a staff representative for advice on filing a reprisal complaint

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Act

File a workplace safety and insurance claim

If a violent incident results in any injury requiring medical aid or lost time from work, the employer must report it to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) within three days and file a claim on your behalf. This is done using WSIB Form 7. You are entitled to receive a copy of this form from the employer, and it is important that you do so.

When you see your doctor or healthcare practitioner, inform them that the injury occurred at work and request that they complete a WSIB Form 8. A worker may also directly notify the WSIB of a workplace injury by completing WSIB Form 6 and sending it to the Board. The Board may also contact a worker directly requesting they file a Form 6. Employers who do not report to the WSIB can be fined under the Act.

Note: Contact an OPSEU/SEFPO Benefits Officer or a Staff Representative for advice on filing WSIB claims or  forms

Workers in several sectors have been identified to be entitled to benefits for lost time due to injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.

In April 2016, Bill 163, Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act, amended the WSIA to provide presumptive coverage of post-traumatic stress disorder for first responders (fire, police, paramedics and dispatch personnel, correctional workers, youth service workers). Presumptive coverage means that, for these workers, the diagnosis is presumed to have arisen in the course of their employment unless the contrary is demonstrated. The claimant will still have to meet the WSIB specific employment and diagnostic criteria.

The diagnosis of PTSD must be made by a psychiatrist or a psychologist and must be consistent with the description in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V).

Click here to view the amended section of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997


The Criminal Code of Canada

File criminal charges against attackers

Assault is a criminal offence under the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC). Sec. 265 reads in part, “a person commits assault by using force against another person without their consent, or by attempting or threatening to use force.” When an assault occurs, call the police to investigate and request that the police lay charges against the assailant.

If appropriate, file criminal charges against the employer

On March 31, 2004, Bill C-45 (also known as the “Westray Bill”) amended the CCC and established new legal duties for workplace health and safety, and imposed serious penalties for violations that result in injuries or death to a worker. This amendment makes a clear statement in the criminal code that wanton or reckless disregard for the safety of workers and the public at large in a workplace setting, is a criminal offence and that corporate executives, directors and managers could be held criminally accountable.

For clarity, The CCOHS website details:

“…These provisions of the Criminal Code affect all organizations and individuals who direct the work of others, anywhere in Canada. These organizations include federal, provincial, and municipal governments, corporations, private companies, charities, and non-governmental organizations….”

If appropriate, request the police to file charges against the employer.

Note: For advice on this matter, contact the OPSEU/SEFPO Health and Safety Unit or your Staff Representative.

The Compensation for Victims of Crime Act (Repealed)

In September 2019, the Ontario government repealed the “Compensation for Victims of Crime Act” and thus, eliminated the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which was providing pain and suffering compensation to victims of violent crime. In its place, there is the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). Through the OVC, a victim of crime can access the Victim Quick Response Program+ (VQRP+).

This is an Ontario government program that may pay for certain expenses or provide a variety of victim assistance services through a network of not-for-profit community-based organizations throughout the province. Victims seeking compensation or assistance via the VQRP+ program, will need to contact your “local VQRP+ service delivery organization”.

Click here for more info on the Victim Quick Response Program


Click here to access the Victims Services directory for victims of crime in Ontario


The Collective Agreement

File a grievance

Many collective agreements (union contracts) now contain specific language on workplace violence, harassment and health and safety. Check the contract for violations.

The Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRA)

File a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission

It is against the law for anyone to harass a person because of their colour, creed, citizenship, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, family, or marital status. Harassment includes offensive comments, jokes, unwanted sexual advances or touching.

The code requires an employer to stop harassment at work. If harassment is not stopped, both employer and offender can be held accountable.

Workers who believe they have been discriminated against through such harassment can file a complaint with the commission.

Click here to view the Employer’s Legal Responsibility under the OHRA


How can unions organize to ensure employers comply with the legislation and prevent violence and harassment at work?

A workplace free from violence and harassment should be the goal of every union member. As with every union goal, our success depends on how well we organize and involve our members.

1)    Find out whether violence and harassment are problems in your workplace.

  • Coordinate your activities around workplace violence and harassment with your JHSC or Health and Safety representative.
  • Talk to members about their concerns.
  • Develop a short survey (see sample later in this booklet).
  • Encourage your members to complete the survey.
  • Urge members to record and report all incidents of violence to their supervisor and the
  • union (see sample Incident Report later in this booklet).
  • Check that your employer has complied with the workplace violence and harassment
  • provisions of the Act.
  • Check that your employer has completed Risk Assessments for workplace violence and shared the report with your JHSC or Health and Safety representative.
  • Check that measures and procedures designed to control the hazard of violence identified in the Risk Assessment have been developed and implemented.
  • Check that the measures and procedures are being followed and actually work. Check that a means of summoning immediate assistance works.
  • Ensure that your Health and Safety representative or JHSC member(s) are receiving and reviewing all relevant incident reports from the employer.
  • Review data regularly and update members.
  • Hold information meetings and put out bulletins.

2)   Develop an action plan to get the problem addressed.

  • Work with your JHSC member(s) or Health and Safety representative to form committees to research and develop solutions.
  • Involve members in developing solutions, setting priorities, and picking long‑term and short‑term goals.
  • Use your JHSC or Health and Safety representative to make recommendations to the employer to improve safety.
  • Meet the employer to present your documentation, survey results and demands.
  • When the work or the workplace changes, insist that the employer reassesses the risk of violence. (See 32.0.3 Sub. 4 OHSA)
  • When a workplace inspection identifies the hazard of violence, or a review of incidents reveals that the hazard of violence is not properly controlled insist that the employer reassess the risk of violence and ensure that the workers are involved in the process.
  • If you win, publicize your success.

3)   What do you do if management refuses to correct the problem?

  • Local unions should always have a plan to deal with management’s refusal to correct a problem. The plan should involve members in the activity.
  • File complaints to the Ministry of Labour under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and demand an investigation.
  • Encourage members to always carefully document and report incidents of violence.
  • Exercise the right to refuse when the risk of violence has not been properly controlled.
  • Call the police when a physical assault occurs and demand that criminal charges be laid.
  • File grievances.
  • Use the media to draw attention to the problem.
  • Develop a slogan like “Violence is NOT part of the job.” Use buttons and posters.
  • Negotiate contract language to address the problem in your next contract. This is important even where legislation exists. Contract language allows you to address issues specific to your workplace such as:
    • security systems and protective equipment
    • communications and information
    • client behaviour assessment
    • training
    • minimum staffing levels for areas or tasks.
    • working alone

Put the employer on notice that we seek enforcement at the workplace and will exercise our rights under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act and our collective agreements.

What should local unions do when an assault occurs?

It is crucial that members and locals take action when an assault occurs. It’s the only way to ensure that violent conditions will be addressed, that workers’ rights to compensation will be protected, and that the victim receives support and assistance. Here are several measures that should be taken when a worker is assaulted.

Call it what it is. Assault is a crime; it is not a “negative interaction.” Employers often seek to downplay how the assault is characterized. Downplaying the incident only serves to entrench the worker’s feelings of being a victim, rather than immediately starting the process of support and recovery.

Support the victim. Ensure that medical attention is provided, and that the victim receives emotional support and counseling.

Contact the union. Encourage all members to contact the union immediately after a violent incident. Union contact begins at the local level: the Local President, other Local Executive, health and safety representative or JHSC member.

Call the police to investigate and lay charges. Assault is a criminal offence and should be dealt with under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Advise the victim. Victims may need post‑traumatic stress counseling, legal advice and information regarding compensation and insurance benefits as well as their rights and protection under the Health and Safety Act and Criminal Code.

Photograph injuries. Take a photo of all injuries to show the extent of injury. Obviously, medical treatment takes priority over this step.

Investigate the accident/assault. Insist on a full investigation of all assaults by the JHSC or Health and Safety representative. Look for precipitating and contributing factors to uncover root causes. This documentation is essential to support the case for corrective measures.

Get the JHSC or HSR involved. JHSCs and HSRs should be given notice when workers are injured. The JHSC or HSR have the right to investigate in cases of critical injuries. And for all injuries, the JHSC and HSR should identify any gaps in the safety measures and make recommendations to prevent further injuries.

Re-assign the client. A worker should not be required to work with the assailant. The victim is already distressed.

File an incident/accident report. Individuals and witnesses should document all incidents of assault. This documentation is essential to support a case for corrective measures. Encourage your members to file written reports of any assault.

Request any written reports about the incident from the employer.  The Act requires the employer to provide a written report to the union and the JHSC or health and safety representative on all accidents requiring medical attention within four days of the incident. If the injury is critical or there is a fatality, notice must be provided immediately and the MOL must also be notified. The union should keep its own record of incidents and encourage victims to report all incidents.

File a Workplace Safety and Insurance Board claim.  If an assault injury results in lost time or medical attention, the employer must file a report with the WSIB within three days. At the same time the worker should claim for benefits for lost time due to any injury or post-traumatic stress.

File a complaint with the MLITSD. Insist that an inspector comes to the workplace to write corrective orders or to prosecute if an employer has not taken precautions to protect workers. It is illegal for the employer to make reprisals against workers for making such a complaint. If the MLITSD inspector does not properly address the complaint, the decision can be appealed. Contact the OPSEU/SEFPO health and safety unit for advice.

Exercise the right to refuse unsafe work. Most workers have a right to refuse if they may be endangered by violence. Some workers have limitations on the right to refuse if the hazard is a normal condition of employment or if refusing would directly endanger another person. See the section “What are your legal rights and protections” earlier in this booklet.

File a grievance.  When a violent incident occurs workers should file a grievance against the employer under the collective agreement because the employer has failed to make reasonable provision for the health and safety of the employees.

For example, the Ontario Public Service collective agreement says that the employer must make “reasonable provision” for the health and safety of employees and “cooperate fully with the union to prevent accidents and provide health and safety.”

Wording for such a grievance would be: “I grieve that the employer has failed to make reasonable provision for my health and safety.”

Many other collective agreements now include specific language on violence, harassment and health and safety. Consult your union steward on appropriate wording. Remedies may vary, but you can request:

  • a declaration that you will not be required to work alone, or that specific measures will be instituted to address the particular situations that expose you to violence;
  • that you be reimbursed for any lost money as a result of your absence; and
  • that you be reimbursed for any legal costs incurred.




Sample incident report form

  1. Workplace ______________________Union Local:_____________
  2. Name of victim:_____________________________________________
  3. Date of incident: ____________________pm/am______________
  4. Location: ___________________________________________________
  5. Witnesses:__________________________________________________
  6. Describe incident: _________________________________________
  7. Was a weapon involved?___________________________________
  8. What kind of weapon?_____________________________________
  9. Who was the attacker?_____________________________________

 Patient    Client     Other

  1. Were you injured?__________________________________________
  2. Describe injuries __________________________________________
  3. Was medical aid needed? ________________________________
  4. Will you lose time from work? ____________________________
  5. Was Workers’ Compensation claimed?__________________
  6. Was this incident reported? ______________________________
    • To whom? ______________________________________________
  7. Were the police notified? _________________________________
  8. How could this have been prevented? ___________________
  9. Has any action been taken to prevent a similar incident?

If yes, describe_________________________________________



Sample survey questionnaire

  • Local union _________________________________________________
  • Where do you work? _______________________________________
  • What is your job? __________________________________________
  • Have you been subjected to a violent or aggressive act at work during the past 12 months?

 Yes     No

  • How many times has this occurred? _____________________

Note: Questions 7 – 12 inclusive must be repeated for  each separate incident.

  • Who committed the aggressive acts?

 Client

 Patient

 Child

 Student

 Other (specify) _____________________________________

  • What was the nature of the aggression?

 Struck

 Kicked

 Hit with an object

 Cut with a sharp object

 Verbally abused

 Threatened with harm

 Sexually assaulted

 Other _______________________________________________

  • Were you injured physically?

 Yes     No

  • Did you require medical attention?

 Yes     No

  • Did you lose time from work?

 Yes     No

  • To whom was the incident reported?

 Supervisor

 Police

 Health and safety inspector

 Workplace Safety and Insurance Board

 Other _______________________________________________

 Incident was not reported

  • Prior to any of these incidents, did you request assistance to deal with potentially violent behaviour?

 Yes     No

  • Were your requests granted?

 Almost always

 Sometimes

 Almost never

 Never

  • Is your workplace equipped with the following:

 Alarm system for violent incidents

 Panic buttons to summon aid

 Personal alarms

 Two-way communication devices

 Video cameras

 Security personnel

 Emergency codes

  • Does your employer have a system for assessing potentially violent clients/patients?

 Yes     No

  • Does your employer have a system that conveys information about potentially violent clients?

 Yes     No

  • Does your employer warn you about a potentially violent client?

 Almost always

 Sometimes

 Almost never

 Never

  • What kind of special precautions does your employer take when potentially violent clients are identified?

 Staff are added

 Gives instruction on precautions

 Effective devices for summoning assistance

 Other _______________________________________________

  • Are requests for another person to assist you granted?

 Almost always

 Sometimes

 Almost never

 Never

  • Are you assigned to work alone with potentially violent clients?

 Almost always

 Sometimes

 Almost never

 Never

  • Are you subjected to aggressive or violent acts while working alone?

 Almost always

 Sometimes

 Almost never

 Never

  • Do you receive specific training on recognizing and dealing with potentially violent persons or situations?

 Almost always

 Sometimes

 Almost never

 Never


  • What issues about violence have you raised with the employer?

 Working alone

 Poor staffing levels

 Communication systems

 Alarm systems

 No warnings about potential violence

 Training

 Other

  • Does your employer take corrective action when you raise issues?

 Almost always

 Sometimes

 Almost never

 Never

  • Does your employer have a policy and program to deal with violence?

 Yes

 No

 Don’t know


  • Are there shortcomings in this policy and program?

 Yes     No

  • If yes, identify the shortcomings.

 Not followed consistently

 Protective measures and equipment not in place

 Inadequate assessment of client behaviour

 No or little input from staff

 No money to implement it

 Other gaps

 Specify _____________________________________________



Sample contract language for Collective Agreements Language on violence

This is sample language for contract proposals on violence in the workplace.

Contract language gives you rights you can grieve to enforce.

General clause

The employer shall take all necessary measures to protect employees from violence at work.

It is understood that violence includes any physical assault or aggression, verbal threats, and any unwelcome comment, conduct, gesture or contact which causes humiliation, physical harm or fear, or which compromises an individual’s dignity or self‑worth.

Employer policy for addressing violence at work

The employer shall develop written policies and procedures, in consultation with the union, to deal with violence at work. Such policies and procedures shall address, but not be limited to, the following:

  • Prevention of violence at work;
  • Management of potentially violent clients or situations;
  • Initial and ongoing assessment of clients’ propensity for violence;
  • Regular evaluation of changes in the workplace that may contribute to violence;
  • A procedure for detailed reporting of all violent or aggressive incidents involving staff;
  • Providing the union with written reports of all incidents;
  • Legal counsel and post‑traumatic support to victims of violence; and
  • Procedure for calling police when a worker is assaulted.

Investigating violent incidents

The employer shall investigate all violent incidents and agrees that the union has a right to participate in the investigation.

Risk assessment

In consultation and co-operation with the JHSC or HSR the employer shall conduct an assessment of the risks for violence in the workplace using such tools as may be recommended by the JHSC or HSR.

The risk assessment shall be repeated in whole or in part as recommended by the JHSC or HSR and in any case not less than every ___ months.

The results of any risk assessment shall be provided to the union and the JHSC or HSR.


The employer shall conduct an ongoing security and safety assessment and develop a security plan that shall include measures and procedures to protect staff, clients and the general public from aggressive or violent actions.

The security and safety assessment shall examine trends in aggressive behaviour from all sources.

The security plan shall include measures and procedures that include, but are not limited to, safety considerations related to all of the following:

  • Physical design and layout of the workplace;
  • The organization of work;
  • Security personnel;
  • Staffing levels and staff deployment; and
  • Training in appropriate response to violent behaviour.

The Public Services Health and Safety Association (PSHSA) has developed a free online webinar that provides information and security options for community and healthcare settings as well as an overview of an effective security program.

 Click here to access the free online PSHSA webinar


Addressing harassment and bullying in the workplace

In accordance with the OHSA, the employer shall develop a written workplace harassment prevention policy and program, in consultation with the JHSC or HSR, to deal with harassment and bullying at work.

Such policies and procedures shall address, but not be limited to, the following:

  • Policy that all forms of harassment, abuse and bullying are unacceptable;
  • A procedure for conducting investigations of harassment and bullying;
  • A procedure for resolving valid complaints of harassment and bullying and preventing
  • their recurrence; and
  • Training and Instruction in the policies and procedures.



Staffing levels

The employer agrees to provide an adequate level of trained staff.

No employee will be required to work alone with a potentially violent client.

The employer agrees to notify employees of potentially violent or aggressive clients, and to provide another staff member to work with an employee who is required to work in such circumstances.

Workplace design

Where appropriate, the employer shall institute security measures including, but not limited to:

  • Surveillance cameras;
  • Restricted access by the public;
  • Protective barriers;
  • Safe rooms; and
  • Panic buttons to alert security personnel.

Two-way radios, alarms and paging systems

The employer shall provide two‑way radios, alarms and/or paging systems or other means of summoning immediate aid where employees establish a need. All equipment shall be tested regularly, and all employees shall be trained in the operation of such equipment.


The employer shall provide training to all staff including, but not limited to:

  • Recognizing warning signs and triggers of violence;
  • Defusing violent situations and verbal confrontation;
  • Obtaining and reviewing client’s history for violence;
  • Critical incident debriefing;
  • Strategies for avoiding physical harm; and
  • Detailed review of all employer safety policies and procedures.

Psychological health and safety

The employer shall take reasonable precautions to prevent workplace psychosocial hazards from affecting workers’ health.

The employer shall engage and consult with the union in identifying strategies to improve psychological health and safety at the workplace.

The employer shall provide supports to protect worker psychological health and safety, including access to trauma-trained professionals.

The employer shall review all policies and procedures in consideration of how they contribute to a psychologically safe and healthy workplace.

Post-traumatic stress referral service

The employer shall provide counselling and support to all affected employees. The employer agrees to compensate affected employees for lost workdays, counseling sessions, travel and other related expenses.

Prosecuting offenders

The employer shall assist an assaulted employee in all legal actions against the offender. Should the employer not support charges being laid, the employer shall provide a written explanation to the union and the employee of its decision.

Union rights

The employer agrees that the union has a right to bring into the workplace any union representative to assist in investigating health and safety conditions.


Consult your OPSEU/SEFPO Staff Representative or Regional Office about how you can obtain printed copies of our Worker’s Guide to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, our Violence and harassment in the Workplace and From Knowledge to Action booklets. All are valuable resources for all workers to gain a better understanding of worker rights and employer obligations under the OHSA.

The OPSEU/SEFPO Worker Safety Unit also has tip sheets on a wide array of health and safety topics beyond workplace violence available on our webpage.

Click here to be redirected to our webpage

The OPSEU/SEFPO Worker Safety Unit can be reached at 1-800-268-7376 or 416-443-8888 or via email:

The Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development

All workplace health and safety complaints/concerns should be brought to the attention of your immediate supervisor or employer first. In many cases, communicating with your local joint health and safety committee, or health and safety representative, is also effective to make others aware of your concern/complaint and can lead to a remedy.

These efforts are an integral part of the Internal Responsibility System (IRS) and a worker obligation under the Act:

worker shall,
(a) work in compliance with the provisions of this Act and the regulations;

(b) use or wear the equipment, protective devices or clothing that the worker’s employer requires to be used or worn;

(c) report to his or her employer or supervisor the absence of or defect in any equipment or protective device of which the worker is aware and which may endanger himself, herself or another worker; and

(d) report to his or her employer or supervisor any contravention of this Act or the regulations or the existence of any hazard of which he or she knows.

Sec. 28 Sub. 1

In situations where the employer may not be accommodating or mitigating the situation, or there is no HSR or functioning JHSC, contacting the ministry may be necessary.

When you contact the ministry, tell them you wish to “make a formal complaint” regarding a hazard that exists in the workplace and that it remains uncontrolled and that you want an inspector to investigate. You can request your complaint remains anonymous. However, the MLITSD website advises:

“…the ministry will not give your name to anyone in your workplace, we cannot guarantee that your employer won’t guess that you are the complainant.

We also cannot guarantee that you will remain anonymous if there is a prosecution…”

To contact the MLITSD:

The Workers Health and Safety Centre (WHSC)

The WHSC, is an OPSEU/SEFPO preferred provider of health and safety training and resources for large or small workplaces, JHSC’s and HSR’s from all sectors. The WHSC offers high quality training developed and delivered by workers for workers. Many of their instructors are OPSEU/SEFPO members.

To contact the WHSC:


Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW)

With their provincial head office in Toronto and eight regional offices, OHCOW is staffed by an interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, hygienists, agronomists, and researchers. They provide a variety of services free of charge to the workplace parties, including an inquiry service to answer work-related health and safety questions and group prevention services for workplace health and safety committees and groups of workers.

To contact OHCOW:

Mental Injury Toolkit (MIT toolkit)

The Mental Injury Toolkit is a resource book (and three short videos) for activists who want to take action on workplace stress in their workplace. The kit walks you through all you need to know about workplace stress.

  • Why should we care?
  • Workplace stress: Assumptions, terminology, and approaches
  • What are other jurisdictions doing?
  • What are my legal rights and protections? (focus on Ontario)
  • What does a workplace action plan look like?
  • Resources

Click here to access more information about the MIT kit



As discussed throughout this booklet workplace violence, harassment and bullying impacts workers and workplaces in a variety of ways including increased stress and a wide range of other psychological effects. If not properly identified and mitigated, prolonged exposure can take a toll on workers’ and the overall workplace environment. Because these hazards do not fit into traditional categories such as chemical hazards, pains, and strains, or slips and they can be challenging to address.

To assist in identifying and addressing workplace related stress to workers’, The Mental Injuries Tool Group and OHCOW created StressAssess. This online survey tool was designed for workers and managers who are interested in assessing psychosocial hazards in the workplace; to confidently identify issues and provide insight, perspective, and a basic understanding about some of the causes of workplace stress. By using this tool, workplace parties can gather the information needed in order to take action to improve the work environment and protect both the physical and mental health of workers.

Click here to be redirected to the StressAssess homepage

The Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)

The CCOHS offers a variety of innovative and cost-effective products and services related to workplace health and safety including, apps and software, several free courses, databases, podcasts and more.

To contact the CCOHS:

  • By Phone: 1-800-668-4284 or in the GTA 905-572-2981
  • CCOHS Webpage: Click here to access the CCOHS Homepage

Public Services Health and Safety Association (PSHSA)

As an OPSEU/SEFPO recognized partner in health and safety, the PSHSA offers a variety of products and services including, health and safety training or consulting services on topics such as workplace violence, harassment, bullying or risk assessment tools and more. Sectors and priorities for the PSHSA include; Health & Community Service, Government & Municipal, Education & Culture, and Public Safety.

OPSEU/SEFPO and other unions has worked in collaboration with PSHSA and other stakeholders to develop eight Violence, Aggression & Responsive Behaviours Toolkits (VARB) for workplace violence prevention specific to the healthcare sector – but many of the elements can be applied to other sectors.

These toolkits help workplaces respond to the mandatory provisions in the OHSA regarding summoning immediate assistance, providing information about a person with a history of violence and risk assessment.

The VARB toolkits are:

  • Workplace Violence Risk Assessment
  • Individual Client Risk Assessment
  • Risk Communication / Flagging
  • Security Gap Analysis
  • Personal Safety Response System
  • Emergency Responses (Code White)
  • Work Refusals
  • Transitions

To contact the PSHSA;

For further information on all health and safety related matters, contact your OPSEU/SEFPO Staff Representative or a Health and Safety Officer in the Worker Safety Unit at OPSEU/SEFPO head office via our email address: