Violence and Harassment in the Workplace on the Rise

Over the past year, there has been a spotlight on workplace violence, harassment, and sexual harassment. Allegations have run rampant in the media, sports, entertainment, and politics. We continue to hear reports of toxic cultures deeply entrenched in large Canadian institutions such as the RCMP, Canadian Military, Corrections Canada, and most recently, Canada Post.

In Ontario, the Ministry of Labour has seen an increase of more than 100% in workplace harassment complaints since Bill 132: The Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act came into force in September 2016. In the first year following Bill 132, there were approximately 5000 calls regarding workplace harassment including sexual harassment. These calls resulted in almost 2200 complaints and over 1500 field visits from specially trained Ministry inspectors.

Individuals are coming forward and sharing their stories. It is no longer acceptable to ignore these pervasive harassment narratives. There has been, and continues to be, a tangential shift in the way allegations are being viewed. We are finally seeing consequences applied to those that have exhibited poor or intolerable, and also illegal, behaviour.

In November 2017, the Federal Government introduced Bill C-65. Part of the Bill was an amendment to the Canada Labour Code to strengthen the existing framework for the prevention of workplace harassment and violence, including sexual harassment and sexual violence. The Bill is aimed at eliminating toxic behaviours in federally regulated and parliamentary workplaces. The changes would bring together separate labour standards for sexual harassment and violence and subject them to the same scrutiny and dispute resolution process. Once the legislation is adopted, anyone who is unhappy with how their dispute is being handled internally could complain to the federal labour minister, who could step in to investigate. This is a positive step forward, clearly identifying that unwanted behaviour will not be tolerated at any level.

Provincially, every province except Quebec and New Brunswick, and the Yukon territory has some form of legislation on the topic of workplace violence and harassment. Out of the nine jurisdictions that currently have workplace violence legislation, four also have separate provisions for workplace harassment. Quebec currently has legislation addressing psychological harassment, but nothing specific to workplace violence.

New Brunswick has introduced new regulations under the General Regulations – Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) aimed at identifying and preventing workplace violence and harassment. These new regulations are similar to that of Ontario’s, and they will come into force on September 1, 2018.

Throughout all Canadian legislation on workplace violence and workplace harassment, none treat the topic of workplace violence and harassment as one issue. Therefore, employers must pay close attention to their policies and programs to ensure legislative differences are captured.

Policies for violence and harassment must clearly:

  • Demonstrate the employer’s commitment to keeping the workplace free from violence and harassment
  • Consider the sources and outline the roles and responsibilities of the workplace parties in support of the policy and program

The main reason jurisdictions treat violence and harassment separately is because they have different program requirements. Program elements for workplace violence must include a risk assessment. Employers have the responsibility to assess the risk of workplace violence that may arise based on the nature, type, and conditions of work. Employers may also have to consider circumstances that would be common to similar workplaces. A thorough risk assessment is a prime driver that sets up the workplace violence program.

Programs must include measures and procedures to control the identified risks. Employers must also have a structured process for reporting and investigating, and clearly outline the consequences of policy violation.

Program elements for workplace harassment differ slightly, as a risk assessment for harassment is not required, and the reporting structure needs to clearly identify who to report harassment to if the alleged harasser is the supervisor or manager. This is a key aspect of the harassment program.

We hear about incidents almost every day. Statistics that are available clearly indicate that workplace violence and harassment needs to be addressed. Legislative framework—whether it be provincial or federal—is designed so that employers can prevent incidents of harassment or violence, and respond effectively to these incidents when they do occur and support the affected employees. Training workplace parties on all aspects of the program and the expectations and outcomes is key component in the program’s overall success.

Written by Jeff Thorne | Manager of Training & Consulting


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