Since June 15 last week, employers and employees in Ontario now have to tread more carefully to make sure their words and actions are not misunderstood.
Employers also now have another task to complete to ensure they are complying with provincial health and safety laws.
From now on they have to proactively assess the risks of violence or harassment that their employees might be endangered by in the workplace. New changes to the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act under Bill 168 apply to all workplaces, and these are defined as anywhere where a worker is directed to be and is being paid to be there, whether it is a “building, mine, construction site, vehicle, open field, road or forest.”
According to the new rules, employers must take measures to control the risks to their employees under a range of circumstances, including the threat of both physical violence and workplace harassment. While workplace violence refers to either real or threatened physical violence, workplace harassment means “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.”
One source of comfort to some employers will be the fact that the Ministry of Labour has set some limits on what constitutes workplace harassment. If a manager or supervisor says or does something “that is part of his or her normal work function, [it] would not normally be considered workplace harassment,” noting that this is the case “even if their are sometimes unpleasant consequences for a worker.” As specific examples of what would not be classed as workplace harassment, the Ministry cites “changes in work assignments, scheduling, job assessment and evaluation, workplace inspections, implementation of dress codes and disciplinary action.”
What employers are required to do besides adopting programs specifically for dealing with workplace violence and harassment, is also pay special attention when they suspect an employee is vulnerable to domestic violence. The Ministry states, “Employers who are aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, that domestic violence may occur in the workplace must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect a worker at risk of physical injury.”
As well, the employers and supervisors have to notify workers if they know there is a chance they may encounter a person who has a risk of violent behaviour in the course of their work.
Ministry of Labour health and safety inspectors will enforce the new provisions, which will require any employer that regularly employs more than six employees to have a written policy that is posted in a conspicuous place. Employers with fewer than six employees must have a policy but generally it does not have to be written out.
For details about the new requirements, click here.