Sexual Harassment and Violence: Pursuing a Claim at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

Survivors of sexual harassment and violence in the workplace and in other specific social settings (for example, in schools, at your doctor’s office, on campus) have the right to protection under Ontario’s Human Rights Code. This is in addition to participating in a criminal process, or, as an alternative to a civil lawsuit. Claims of sexual harassment can be filed directly at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. If you want to pursue a claim, you can obtain free legal services from the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.

Resources for Sexual Harassment and Violence in the Workplace:

Can I file a Human Rights Complaint for Workplace Sexual Harassment?

This guide consists of legal information ONLY; information shared in this guide is NOT considered legal advice.

The Ontario Human Rights Code states that all workers have a right to be free from sexual harassment in Ontario workplaces. The Code defines workplace sexual harassment as a course of vexatious conduct or comments related to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and/ or gender expression where the actions, comments and behaviours are known or should be known as unwelcome.

Under the Code, you can file an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario if you believe you experienced workplace sexual harassment. You will need to show that the harassment is related to your employment and is connected to a prohibited ground of discrimination, such as sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and /or reprisal.

The Code does not apply to every Ontario worker and to federally regulated workplaces such as banking, telecommunications, railways
crossing provincial and international borders, air transportation; radio and television broadcasting; mining, and ports, or First Nation band
councils. Federally regulated workplaces are covered by the Canadian
Human Rights Act.

Workplace sexual harassment can include multiple unwanted sexualized incidents perpetrated by one or more harassers. It can also be one serious incident of sexual harassment that causes an individual distress, harm, and trauma.

Sexual harassment at work can include many types of actions and behaviours:

Physical Sexual Harassment:

  • Demanding hugs from co-workers
  • Inappropriate touching
  • Standing in someone’s personal space to intimidate physically or sexually
  • Blocking someone’s way on purpose

Verbal Sexual Harassment:

  • Sexual jokes or comments
  • Making fun about someone’s gender identity, gender expression, and/or sexual orientation
  • Talking about other people’s sex lives or talking about your own sex life in the workplace
  • Intrusive questions about gender identity, sexuality, sexual/dating preferences or sexual experience

Visual Sexual Harassment:

  • • Leering or staring inappropriately
  • Sharing sexual images without consent, in-person or online
  • Sharing sexual text messages without consent

Poisoned work environment:

  • Toxic or poisoned work environments that condone different forms of sexual harassment and do not support workers who come forward with their experiences are also a form of workplace sexual harassment that is recognized under the Code

Other Forms of Harassment:

  • Reprisal
  • Online sexual harassment
  • Asking for sexual favours for rewards or benefits at work

Workplace sexual harassment includes many unwanted sexualized actions and behaviours that can occur at the same time at work or even outside of workplaces such as trainings, office parties, work events and
social media.

Gender-based harassment (e.g. discriminating a co-worker because of
their gender identity and gender expression) is also a form of workplace
sexual harassment. Sexual harassment may come from a boss, a co-worker, someone who you manage, or even a client or customer.

Under the Human Rights Code, reprisal is defined as consequences or
punishment for complaining about human rights violations. Reprisal
can include an increase in workplace sexual harassment and/or threats of
harm and violence.

Example 1: A transgender worker is angry and overwhelmed when asked by their colleague about their gender confirmation surgery and what gendered washroom they use.

Example 2: Women-identifying servers at a restaurant are inappropriately touched by an assistant manager. They don’t know if they can complain to the owner.

Example 3: A Black female senior software engineer at a tech start-up is uncomfortable and sad after she overhears sexualized and racist comments about her body and personality from the junior engineers she manages at work.

Example 4: A male construction worker is uncomfortable with the rape jokes his boss and co-workers say when someone makes a mistake at the job.

Example 5: A female HVAC apprentice is overwhelmed with how close her boss/mentor stands while training her and the sexual flirting. She is worried that if she tells him to stop, he will fire her.

Example 6: A gender queer worker is misgendered at work by their boss and receives inappropriate sexualized images from a male coworker in the private Zoom chat during meetings and text messages after work

Example 7: A worker in a wheelchair is asked inappropriate questions about
her sex life and touched without her consent by most of her co-workers.

You have one year, from the date of the last incident of workplace sexual harassment, to file a human rights application at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO).

The HRTO has a strict limitation period that requires all applications of
human rights violations to be fled within one year of the last incident of
harassment and/or discrimination. For details about limitation periods at
the HRTO visit:

Remedies and awards are determined on a case-by-case basis at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. General information about remedies shared in this guide should not be considered legal advice.

1. General Damages: Financial compensation awarded to you for injuries to your dignity, feelings, and self-respect because of the harassment and discrimination. General damages are awarded when there is a breach in the Code and the applicant experienced a personal impact from that breach.

2. Special Damages: Financial awards for any money you lost or are forced to spend (such as income loss due to termination, therapy costs, other medical costs) because of the harassment and discrimination. This type of remedy is meant to put you back in the fnancial position you would have been if the harassment and discrimination did not occur.

3. Non-monetary Remedies: The HRTO can order remedies that will put you back in the position you would have been if the discrimination did not occur in the frst place.

4. Public Interest Remedies (PIRs): Public Interest Remedies (PIRs): The HRTO can order remedies or measures to ensure respondents and other people comply with the Code. Public interest remedies are intended to impact more people than just the person fling the human rights application and person(s) or organization(s) responding to the application. The intent behind this type of remedy is to prevent similar harassment and discrimination from happening in the future.

Examples of public interest remedies may include:

  • Ordering workplace sexual harassment training for the harasser, employer and other staff
  • Ordering human rights training for the harasser, employer and other staff
  • Ordering the employer to update a sexual harassment policy or reporting processes
  • Ordering the employer to create post Ontario Human Rights Code cards throughout the workplace

Visit the Human Rights Legal Support Centre website for details about the types of awards and remedies available for harassment and discrimination at the HRTO: how-to-guides/completing-and-fling-an-hrto-application/additionalinformationsection-

You have the legal option to report workplace sexual harassment to your employer directly if it is safe to do so. Your employer is legally required to investigate complaints of workplace sexual harassment. Remember these tips when reporting at work:

1. Recognize and Acknowledge: Recognize the sexual harassment (e.g., touches, gestures, comments etc.) and acknowledge how it makes you feel. Tell your harasser(s) to stop the sexualized actions and behaviours if you feel safe to do so.

2. Document Everything: Document every single incident of workplace sexual harassment, including incidents that happened to you and to other people. For every incident, document important details like:
a. Who is the harasser(s)?
b. When the harassment happened? (date and time)
c. What happened? (Be clear about the sexual harassment)
d. Where the sexual harassment happened?
e. The impact the sexual harassment had on you and your work.

You can also screenshot and save text messages, social media messages, images, and emails as evidence that you can include in both a workplace sexual harassment complaint and a human rights application. Keep the evidence in a safe place outside of work.

3. Review your Workplace’s Sexual Harassment Policy:
Every workplace in Ontario with more than 5 employees is legally required to have a workplace harassment policy that outlines how workers can file complaints of harassment to their employer.

4. Choose Who You Tell Your Workplace Complaint To:
You should file a complaint of workplace sexual harassment in writing to the human resources department or someone in charge in the workplace so that the complaint can be investigated.

5. Ask for Safety Measures and Accommodations: You can ask
your employer for safety accommodations if you are worried that the harasser will retaliate or reprise against you after you
submitted your complaint and the investigation in underway.

6. Learn More About Other Options: Find out more about other legal options and community support resources that can help you address your experience. Filing a workplace sexual harassment complaint at work is only one option. If your harasser is your boss or you do not have a human resources department or position, you can still make a complaint. More than one legal option can apply, depending on your situation.

Contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC) for free, confidential legal advice, information and resources about all
your options for Code-related workplace sexual harassment.

Tel: (416) 597-4900
Toll Free: 1-866-625-5179
TTY: (416) 597-4903
TTY Toll Free: 1-866 612-8627

2.Go to our How-to Guide to understand how to complete and file a human rights
application at the HRTO.

3. Visit the Ontario Human Rights Commission website for legal information
about workplace sexual harassment:

4. Find your community legal clinic for further support on the Legal Aid
Ontario website:

I am Being Sexually Harassed at Work, What Are My Options?

Workplace sexual harassment can happen to anyone. It is important to recognize, acknowledge, and safely report incidents. All situations are unique; always seek specific legal advice for your situation.

If it is sexual in nature and making you feel uncomfortable than this may be workplace sexual harassment. You need to decide what you want to do to feel and be safe at work.

Assert Yourself: If you feel comfortable doing so you can tell the person who is making you uncomfortable to stop the action/words/gestures/touches/threats etc.

Tip: Remember to document who, what, where and when.

Research if your company has a sexual harassment or harassment reporting policy. You will need to report to someone who is in charge.

Choose who you report to based on who you trust and who is harassing you.

Remember that reporting sexual harassment is an individual choice, it’s okay if you decide not to report right away or at all.

What can happen when I report?

The employer has a duty to investigate allegations of sexual harassment.
The employer should take steps to ensure that you are safe during the investigation depending on the severity of the incident.

You may still wish to pursue a legal claim after this. Please obtain specific legal advice.

Tip: Follow-up on all verbal communications with an email that outlines what was discussed as you remember it.

Keep a log of all communications in a personal email or journal that you have outside of work.

What are the possible results of a sexual harassment complaint?

  • Trainings and policy reminders
  • Discipline for the harasser
  • Accommodations for you
  • Apologies

Tip! It is important to let your employer know when you make a complaint what you think would be a suitable outcome.

Other results of a sexual harassment complaint:
Your employer investigated and found that there was no sexual harassment.

  • This is a possible outcome; you may wish to ask the employer if they will take any steps to ensure your safety?

Your employer refused to investigate after you made a complaint.

  • This could be a procedural violation of an employer’s duty to investigate.

Your employer disciplined you after making a report.

  • This may be a reprisal unless there is evidence that the discipline is for an unrelated performance issue.

Please obtain specific legal advice.

This is an individual choice and dependent of what outcome you want to see. Often, individuals will report to the police when there is assault (including all sexual touches), threats of violence, cyber harassment and stalking.

Tips: You may request accompaniment from your local sexual violence resource centre when you speak to the police.

Please get legal advice ASAP to complete legal steps within your time limit. Call ERHAS for more info.

You can speak to a resource centre to help create a safety plan and discuss what options you can pursue to address the harassment.

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres

Indigenous Women: Talk4Healing

French: Fem’Aide

For Code-related discrimination and harassment:

HRLSC: 1-866-625-5179, option 6 for Indigenous Services

For Accommodations:

What Resources Can I Use If I Have Experienced Sexual Harassment and/or Assault?

Telephone helplines that provide counselling services, referral support, and resource information for issues related to violence, harassment, and discrimination.

Talk4Healing Help Line

Helpline for Indigenous women in crisis or experiencing violence and abuse

Languages Available: Oji-Cree, Cree, Algonquin, Inuktitut, Mohawk, Oneida, Odawa, Potawatomi, Micmac, Black Foot, Anishinaabe, Moose Cree, Swampy Cree and English

Assaulted Women’s Helpline

Helpline for women, women-identifying people in crisis who require emotional support, crisis counselling, resource information and referrals

LGBT Youthline

Hours of operation are 4:00 PM – 9:30 PM

Helpline for 2SLGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 16-29 years old

Support provided in English

Trans Lifeline

Helpline for trans people to speak with peer support in Canada and in the U.S.

Trans-identified peer support workers operate the helpline

Support provided in English


Helpline for French-speaking women in Ontario experiencing gender-based violence and require support, information and referrals to community services

Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Kids Help Phone

Helpline available for kids and youth in distress who require emotional support from a counsellor

Kids Help Phone is a national helpline


Confidential Support line for post-secondary students in need of mental health services including mental health supports, addictions, and well-being on-and off-campus

Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week


Helpline and online support for employers in need of employment law advice

Sport Abuse Hotline

Helpline for athletes experiencing abuse, discrimination, harassment and bullying

Kamatsiaqtut Nunavut Helpline

Helpline provides confidential telephone counselling for northerners (Nunavut, Yukon, and NWT) in crisis

Languages: Inuktitut, English and French

Men’s Services: Support Services for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General)

Services offered include individual and group counselling, peer support, telephone and online counselling, and referrals to appropriate community supports

CONNECT Counselling Services (from the Canadian Hearing Society) (available in American Sign Language (ASL) and la langue des signes québécoise (LSQ)

Services offered include sign language interpreting, counselling services, hearing testing, and other supports for the Deaf and hard of hearing.

Ontario Network of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Centres is a network of sexual assault and domestic treatment centres available in hospitals across the province. To find a sexual assault/domestic violence treatment centre in your area visit

Northern Ontario:

Eastern Ontario:

Western Ontario:

Southern Ontario:

There are wide range of mental health services available across ON that can provide counselling and other mental health supports for various groups and individuals.

Please click on the links below to access resource information about different services across the province.