Combating Sexual Violence in the Workplace

Date: August 23, 2016 Author: ocsco@ocsco.ca Categories: OCSCO News
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Combating Sexual Violence in the Workplace: Employers required to have new and updated workplace harassment policies, procedures and training

By Elizabeth Nykorowytsch Macnab, CHRP, CHRL

Did you or your HR staff remember that Ontario's Bill 132 regarding Harassment and Sexual Violence takes effect on September 8, 2016?  After your summer vacation, are you prepared to implement this new legislation?

Carolyn Lee writes that “navigating the complexities of workplace harassment is a challenging process for employers.  It often requires the allocation of considerable time and resources to investigate complaints and has the potential to result in significant costs to an organization if it is required to defend its actions or response to litigation.” As an HR professional, I know the time and effort that it takes to implement, maintain and monitor processes such as these in the workplace. You have to work with the management team (or board of directors in the non-profit sector) to get acceptance and buy in. You also work employees (or labor representatives) and members of the joint health & safety committee in the process as well.

Workplace harassment, sexual harassment, bullying or violence is never acceptable in the workplace or to an employer. Yet it happens every day, which is why the Ontario government introduced new legislation to the Occupational Health and Safety Act as a proactive approach to addressing workplace harassment. One way to do so is by providing training to all employees and management on workplace violence and harassment as well as developing a confidential complaint process that will be accepted and taken seriously by all. 

According to the Ministry of Labour existing language in the Act is intended to cover all forms of harassment, defining workplace harassment as "engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome." As such the existing definition was drafted to cover all 15 prohibited grounds for harassment as set out under Ontario’s Human Rights Code, among them sex, religion and disability. In addition the Ministry says this language prohibits psychological and personal harassment.

As identified by the Workers Health & Safety Centre, amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the Act) add to employers’ existing duties by requiring greater accountability with regard to workplace sexual harassment, including:

  • developing and maintaining a written program to implement the sexual harassment policy din consultation with the joint health and safety committee or representative. (As a result of feedback from workers and their representatives, this consultation was the one significant change made to Bill 132 as it made its way through to passage.);
  • setting up procedures and measures for workers to report incidents to someone other than their supervisor or employer, if those persons are the alleged harasser; establishing how information obtained during harassment investigations may be disclosed; ensuring investigations are appropriate to the circumstances;
  • communicating in writing the results of a harassment investigation to the worker and alleged harasser (if they’re an employee); reviewing, at least annually, the harassment program.

The Employer Advisor acknowledged that other obligations also include involving the Joint Health and Safety Committee in developing these written programs and procedures, regarding workplace harassment, which address:

  • the reporting of incidents;
  • the investigation process;
  • how the investigation information will be kept confidential, except for the purposes of taking corrective action or required by law;
  • training under the programs and procedures; and
  • an annual review of the programs and procedures.

While the deadline for Employers to act may be six months away, the post-Labour Day deadline may require Employers to act as soon as possible.

You will find information on Bill 132 on websites such ashttps://hicksmorley.com/tag/bill-132-sexual-violence-and-harassment/ or http://www.ontarioemployerlaw.com/tag/bill-132/ . Free webinars are offered by non-profits such as Charity Village to help you better understand this legislation and show you what your organization needs to do to be in compliance. There are also companies offered training programs for purchase such ashttp://bill132.ca/ .

The next Charity Village webinar on this topic:Get ready for Ontario's new harassment and sexual violence legislation is scheduled for Thursday, August 25 at 1pm Eastern Time / 10am Pacific Time (one hour). The workshop is free but you mustregister earlyto avoid disappointment. If you're interested in the webinar material but can't commit to attending the live webinar, there is no need to worry - please register anyway! Charity Village emails the webinar recording and presentation slides to all registrants the day after the webinar.  

By September 8th, will you have to answer “Is my organization ready to comply with this new legislation?”