On March 6, 2015, Premier Kathleen Wynne unveiled a new
action plan to combat sexual violence and harassment across
Ontario, including in the workplace. The action plan, entitled
It's Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and
Harassment (the "Plan"), follows an announcement by
Premier Wynne in December 2014 announcing new initiatives to raise
awareness of sexual violence and harassment, to enhance prevention
measures and to combat harassment, violence and discrimination on
the basis of sex.
The Plan recognizes that sexual harassment in the workplace
undermines an individual's dignity. It further states that
"[sexual harassment] can prevent people from doing their jobs
effectively, keep them from reaching their full potential, and
compromise their ability to earn a living. This harassment, left
unchecked, also has the potential to escalate into violent
behaviour." As such, the Plan includes commitments to:
Introduce legislation to strengthen
provisions related to sexual violence and harassment in the
Enhance workplace laws to strengthen
enforcement under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety
Act (the "Act"), including establishing a Code of
Practice to help employers develop stronger sexual harassment
Establish a special enforcement team
of inspectors trained to address complaints of workplace
harassment, including sexual harassment, and enforce the Act's
harassment provisions across Ontario; and
Develop educational materials to help
employers create a safer workplace, free of harassment.
According to the Plan, the new legislation will set out explicit
requirements for employers to investigate and address workplace
harassment, including sexual harassment complaints in the
workplace, and include an obligation for employers to make
"every reasonable effort" to protect workers from
harassment, including sexual harassment, in the workplace. In
addition, the Plan contains a proposal to introduce new legislation
to strengthen the Act to include a definition of sexual
It appears that the new legislation, and its associated Code of
Practice and educational materials may clarify an employer's
obligations to investigate and respond to workplace harassment
We will know more in the near future, but employers should be
ready to review their workplace harassment policies and procedures
in light of any new legislation to ensure compliance and take
advantage of any new guidance, including the proposed educational
materials and Code of Practice to be provided by the Government of
Ontario, to understand employers' requirements to ensure a safe
workplace, free from harassment.
Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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