Violence and Harassment in the Workplace

In 2009 the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Ontario) added requirements for addressing violence and harassment in the workplace.  Ten years later a lot of these policies and programs have not been reviewed or revised even once.  They just live on the health and safety bulletin board.  I have had to raise this issue as a nonconformity a lot recently.

One of the main reasons for this requirement in the Act is to foster an Internal Responsibility System (a.k.a. IRS) in the workplace.  Where employees are empowered to identify and report workplace hazards, including incidents of violence and harassment.  A policy and program addressing Violence and Harassment in the workplace provides the tools and resources for the employees, as well as the supervisors, on how to respond and how the employer will support in dealing with these situations.

Workers may face behaviors ranging from offensive remarks to threats of violence.  It is important to address all unwanted behaviors early to minimize their impact.  Employers have specific duties under the Act.  These specific duties include reviewing and revising the policies and programs as necessary. 

How is workplace doing with this?  How can you demonstrate that the reviews have happened?  You can’t update the programs without re-assessing the risks.

Has the impact of the #MeToo movement been considered?  This movement has really set a spotlight on what is considered offensive behavior and the expectations with respect to actions by the employer.

The Act specifically requires an employer to do the following:

  • Review the workplace harassment and workplace violence policies at least annually [32.0.1(1)(c)]
  • Reassess the risks of workplace violence as often as necessary to ensure that the policy and program continues to protect workers [32.0.3(4)]
  • The program to protect workers from harassment is reviewed at least annually [32.0.7(1)(c)]

Its time to really review your workplace violence and harassment policies and programs, including repeating the risk assessment.  This should be a regular activity within your organization.

Not every jurisdiction in Canada has requirements as Ontario does.  The Canadian Union of Public Employees put together a good legislation reference for workplace violence and harassment requirements.  (https://cupe.ca/legislation-applying-violence-and-harassment-canada-jurisdiction)  But whatever your location, if there is a requirement for a policy or program, keep it up to date.  Have it be a living document that is kept up to date with the changes in your workplace.

This article is not complete and not intended to be an interpretation of the law, just additional guidance in the start of your journey to understand your compliance requirements.  If you require further detailed help, drop us a line and we can come in and conduct a compliance audit and let you know where we stand.  Or even help you conduct your risk assessment.  We are not lawyers, just effective and experienced auditors and consultants.