What the Law Requires
Maintaining a workplace free of violence and harassment is not only vital to retaining good quality employees, but it is also a strict legal requirement. The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) requires every employer, regardless of size, to develop, implement, maintain and enforce a workplace violence and harassment program and policy and to review them at least annually. In addition, Ontario employers are required to provide all of their employees with training regarding how to identify and prevent workplace violence and harassment. The definition of workplace harassment contained in the OHSA is very broad and includes all types of harassment prohibited under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
Workplace Violence and Harassment Policies in General
Although the OHSA mandates that employers have both “programs” and “policies”, practically speaking, these requirements are one and the same, such that employers are required to have a detailed workplace violence and harassment policy that is both in writing and clearly communicated to their employees through documented training. The Ontario Ministry of Labour (which enforces the provisions of the OHSA) will not allow an employer to rely on semantics to avoid the thrust of its statutory duties. Building a workplace violence & harassment program and policy: A workplace violence and harassment policy must, at a minimum, do the following:
- Include measures and procedures for employees to report incidents of workplace violence and harassment;
- Set out how the employer will investigate and deal with incidents or complaints of workplace violence and harassment (an investigation is mandatory in cases of workplace harassment); and
- Include measures and procedures to control the risk of workplace violence and harassment occurring in the employer’s workplace based on an assessment specific to its unique business environment.
The OHSA also requires that employers assess the risk of workplace violence and harassment within their workplaces “as often as is necessary…but at least annually”. Assessments should identify possible risks arising from the workplace; the duties performed, work conditions, and circumstances; and measures for controlling any risks that may cause injury to an employee. It is also important to note that employees have the right to refuse work they feel is unsafe. If you need help understanding the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) or drafting compliant Workplace Violence and Harassment Policies and Programs, contact us at: 1 (833) 247-3652.