By: Andy Balaura (Brampton Business Times – September 2010)
Effective June 15, employers in Ontario must have put measures in place to prevent and manage workplace violence and harassment. Bill 168 amends the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act to create positive obligations for employers to:
• Develop workplace violence and harassment policies;
• Create workplace violence and harassment programs;
• Conduct workplace violence risk assessments; and
• Provide information and training to employees.
Bill 168 specifically defines workplace harassment to include personal or psychological harassment, such as offensive or demeaning statements, intimidation, and bullying. The legislation defines workplace violence as any exercise, attempt to exercise, or threat to use physical force against a worker in a workplace, such as verbal threats, hitting a worker, or wielding a weapon.
Here are the highlights of Bill 168 for Brampton businesses:
Workplace Violence and Workplace Harassment Policies
Bill 168 requires all employers to prepare policies addressing workplace violence and harassment. In workplaces with more than five employees, the policies must be written and posted in a conspicuous location.
Workplace Violence and Workplace Harassment Programs
Bill 168 requires that employers put their policies into practice by developing and maintaining programs which set procedures to: summon immediate assistance; limit risks of harm; and report, investigate and deal with incidents, threats or complaints.
Once the policies and programs have been established, employers are required to provide workers with appropriate information and training regarding the workplace harassment policy and program.
Workplace Violence Assessments
Bill 168 obligates employers to assess the potential for workplace violence that could arise from the nature of the workplace, the type of work or the conditions of work, and implement controls to address such hazards.
Protection of Workers in Situations of Domestic Violence
Under Bill 168, if an employer is aware, or should reasonably be aware, that an act of domestic violence is likely to endanger a worker at the workplace, the employer must take reasonable precautions to protect the worker.
Disclosure of Persons with a History of Violence
Bill 168 requires employers to provide workers with information, including personal information, pertaining to a person with a history of violent behaviour. The duty is triggered if a fellow worker or workers can be expected to encounter a person with a history of violence in the course of work, and if the risk of workplace violence is likely to expose workers to physical injury.
Employee Refuse Unsafe Work
Under Bill 168, workers will have the right to refuse or stop work when they feel endangered by workplace violence. The usual work refusal process would be initiated, which includes an investigation by the employer and, potentially, a Ministry of Labour inspector.
What does this mean for employers?
Employers should be prepared to deal with incidents, complaints or threats of workplace violence and harassment in the same serious manner as accident investigations or complaints under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Prudent employers ensured that they complied with Bill 168 by June 15, 2010, to avoid fines and other consequences, such as reduced workplace morale, productivity, and company reputation.
Andy Balaura is a member of the Labour & Employment Practice and Privacy Law Group at Pallett Valo law firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (905) 273-3022, ext. 225.