October 24, 2016
Employers in Ontario have new duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act this month, as Bill 132 comes into force.

The legislation expands the definition of harassment in the OHSA to include sexual harassment and is designed to make sure workers know their rights as employees as well as their options for confidential reporting of abuse.

“In the past, the alleged harasser might have been disciplined behind closed doors,” explains Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS) consultant Paul Hartford. “You’ve probably heard the expression, ‘if you want justice to be done, justice has to be seen to be done.’” The new legislation ensures complainants have the right to learn the outcome of an investigation.

Bill 132 mandates employers to:
  • Develop, maintain and review a written workplace harassment policy and program in consultation with the Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) or health and safety representative. The Act does not specify what must be contained in the policy, but it’s a good idea to add the Ministry of Labour’s new definition of sexual harassment to the harassment policy and program.
  • Set out in the program how the worker may report the abuse to another party if the abuser is the employer or supervisor. The changes do not specify who will investigate, only that the investigation be appropriate under the circumstances. Bill 132 gives Ministry inspectors the power to order a third-party investigation in this situation.
  • Provide information and instruction about the policy and program to workers.
  • Investigate harassment complaints appropriately.
  • Determine how confidentiality will be maintained during investigations.
  • Ensure the complainant and the alleged harasser are informed about the results of the investigation, and any corrective action, in writing.
  • Review the program at least once a year.
If a violence and harassment policy already exists, Hartford suggests you piggyback on what have already done. Start with a checklist of things you need to do in order to be ready, and be sure to communicate what’s happening to all employees.

“It’s a perfect subject for your next safety talk,” says Hartford. “It can be as simple as telling workers what the law has enacted, that the company is reviewing its policy with your Joint Health and Safety Committee, and that more communication will follow in the coming weeks.”

Hartford offers the following suggestions on how employers can adapt their existing harassment policy and program to meet the new requirements:
  1. Determine who is responsible for doing the updating in consultation with the committee: the health and safety coordinator, human resources?
  2. Sit with your JHSC, look at what you currently have, and work backwards to fill gaps. Step one may be to update your definition of harassment to include sexual harassment.
  3. Review your program and make sure complaints can be addressed in the applicable manner.
  4. Identify who will carry out sexual harassment investigations and how they will be trained. Is it the same people who investigate other forms of harassment and workplace violence?
  5. Determine what reporting provisions you will put in place, and how you will guarantee confidentiality.
  6. Review your company’s anti-discrimination policy to confirm that it addresses sexual harassment.
“Look at this as an opportunity to reinstruct and re-engage your employees and your management team,” says Hartford. “It’s a reminder of expectations of workplace conduct and comments. It’s a reminder that there is recourse for those being bullied or harassed.”

For more information visit wsps.ca.