What constitutes harassment in Alberta?
Under Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, workplace harassment is defined as a “single or repeated incident of objectionable or unwelcome conduct, comment, bullying or action intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person or group”.
Just as important as it is to be aware of what constitutes harassment, employers should be aware of what does not. Under the law, harassment does not include any reasonable conduct of an employer or supervisor related to the normal management of workers on a work site. While steps should always be taken to resolve differences where possible to create a harmonious working environment, opposing opinions or minor disagreements are also not considered workplace harassment.
What does the law require?
Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act defines harassment and violence, including domestic and sexual violence, as workplace hazards. Employers are required to help prevent workplace harassment and violence and address incidents when they occur. There are several steps employers must take to comply with these health and safety obligations and eliminate harassment in the workplace in Alberta.
- Hazard Assessments
Employers are required to conduct hazard assessments, which are meant to identify situations that could put workers at risk of harassment or violence in the workplace. Hazard assessments should be conducted with the following frequency:
- at reasonably practicable intervals to prevent the development of unsafe and unhealthy working conditions;
- when a new work process is introduced;
- when a work process or operation changes; or
- before the construction of significant additions or alterations to a work site.
Hazard assessments must involve the joint worksite health and safety committee or health and safety representative, if there is one.
- Prevention Plans
Employers must have separate prevention plans for violence and harassment in the workplace. By having workplace violence and harassment policies in place, employers will be able to set overall expectations that harassment and violence are not tolerated in the work environment, and outline the processes required to make the policy work on a day-to-day basis. Prevention plans must be in writing, in paper or electronic formats, and be readily available for reference to workers at the work site. They must be reviewed at least once every 3 years.
- Employee Training
Workers also play a role in preventing and responding to workplace violence and harassment. Employers must instruct their employees on the hazards of workplace harassment and violence, how to recognize warning signs, how to respond, and how to report it.
- How to report workplace harassment in Alberta
When violence or harassment in the workplace does occur, employers are required to investigate and address the incident. They must take action to prevent this from reoccurring, and prepare a report detailing the investigation and the corrective action taken. This report must be kept for a minimum of 2 years from the date of the incident, in case it is requested by an Alberta OHS officer.
- Worker Support
Finally, employers must provide support to employees who have experienced workplace harassment or violence. The affected worker should be advised to visit a health professional or seek help through an employee assistance program. If they seek treatment during work hours, the employer may not deduct pay from the employee. If you’re having trouble drafting your HR policies, contact Peninsula for help. We help employers comply with provincial legislation and advise them on how to apply this to their workplace. Contact us today: 1 (833) 247-3652.