FAQ: What is harassment?

Harassment is offensive or objectionable conduct or comments toward another person or persons, including sexual harassment, the instance or persistence of which is known or ought reasonably to be known from the perspective of a reasonable person in the position of the complainant to be intimidating, offensive or unwelcome and creates an intimidating, humiliating, hostile or offensive work, study or living environment.

Harassment and discrimination can exist in any relationship (peer to peer, faculty to student, student to faculty, staff to supervisor, supervisor to staff, etc.).

Even if someone didn’t mean to harass or discriminate against someone, a finding can still be made against them. Regardless of intent, it is the effect, context and characteristics of the behavior that determine whether the behavior constitutes discrimination or harassment.

The table below provides some examples. It is by no means exhaustive.


What usually constitutes harassment

What might constitute harassment

What does not usually constitute harassment

Serious or repeated degrading or offensive remarks, such as mocking a person’s physical characteristics or appearance, put-downs or insults


A single incident based in one of the prohibited grounds

Allocating work


Following up on absences


Requiring academic and performance standards

Unwelcome social invitations with sexual overtones or flirting with someone where a power differential exists

Making sexually suggestive remarks


Physical contact such as touching or pinching

A single, isolated incident such as an inappropriate remark or abrupt manner

Suggestions that a supervisor or instructor can improve an employee or student evaluation in exchange for sexual favors

Statements damaging to a person’s reputation

Exclusion of an employee for a job based on specific requirements necessary to accomplish safe and effective performance

Threats, intimidation or retaliation against an employee who has launched a complaint or expressed concerns about workplace behaviour

Criticizing someone harshly in a disrespectful and insulting manner

frank discussion of potentially controversial matters conducted in a mutually respectful and non-coercive manner


* Table adapted from the Treasury Board Policy on the Prevention and Resolution of Harassment in the workplace