Further to our series of posts on Ontario's new Sexual Violence and Harassment Legislation, which amends the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Ontario Ministry of Labour has recently issued a Code of Practice to Address Workplace Harassment under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act. The Code of Practice deals with the OHSA's new Workplace Harassment provisions, which come into force on September 8, 2016. The Code of Practice is effective as of that same date.
Importantly, although employers are not legally required to comply with the Code of Practice, those who do will be considered by the Ministry to have complied with the harassment provisions of the OHSA. As such, the Code of Practice is a practical tool that employers can use to ensure compliance.
The Code of Practice is divided into four Parts, each of which is further subdivided into a "General Information" section, which provides guidance on the interpretation of the OHSA's Workplace Harassment provisions, and a "Practice" section, which details requirements that employers may follow to comply with the OHSA.
The Code of Practice's Preface indicates that following its requirements is "just one way in which employers can meet the legal requirements regarding workplace harassment" and a failure to comply with all or part of the Code of Practice may not be a breach of the OHSA. However, the Code of Practice also states that, while employers may choose to adhere to one or all of the Code of Practice's Parts, if an employer does adhere to a Part, it must adhere to all of the Practice requirements under that Part in order to be deemed in compliance with the related Workplace Harassment provision in the OHSA.
The Code of Practice's "General Information" sections provide guidance on the interpretation of the OHSA's Workplace Harassment provisions, as follows:
- Part I: Workplace Harassment Policy – This section outlines the contents of a Workplace Harassment Policy and explains that employers may choose to prepare a separate Workplace Harassment Policy or combine it with their workplace violence, occupational health and safety and/or anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. A template Workplace Harassment Policy is included in the Code of Practice (Sample Workplace Harassment Policy)
- Part II: Workplace Harassment
Program – This section considers reporting
mechanisms for incidents and complaints of Workplace Harassment. In
particular, it clarifies that a person who receives a complaint of
Workplace Harassment should not be under the alleged harasser's
direct control. Further, in instances where the worker's
employer or supervisor is the alleged harasser, an alternate person
who can "objectively address the complaint" must be
designated to receive reports of Workplace Harassment, such as an
employer's board of directors and/or a consultant. Further, the
Workplace Harassment program should set out whether this person
would only receive the complaint, or whether this person would be
expected to carry out an investigation.
This section also considers the consequences of incidents of Workplace Harassment. In incidents arising from individuals who are not the employer's workers, the section suggests that employers could either modify or refuse its services to such people. Consequences for workers could include: apologies, education, counseling, shift changes, reprimands, suspension, job transfer, termination or, in instances where workplace harassment is prevalent or commonplace, training for everyone in the workplace.
- Part III: Employer's Duties Concerning Workplace Harassment – This section relates to investigations into Workplace Harassment and provides that: an "appropriate investigation" must be "objective"; the investigator must not be "directly involved in the incident or complaint" or "under the direct control of the alleged harasser"; and the investigator should have knowledge of how to conduct an investigation appropriate in the circumstances. The parties to the complaint should be updated periodically on the status of the investigation. The Code of Practice includes a sample investigation template, which can be found here: Sample Investigation Template
- Part IV: Providing Information and Instruction on a Workplace Harassment Policy and Program – This section outlines the scope of the "Information and Instruction" that an employer must provide to its workers under the OHSA. Employers provide information and instruction on "what conduct is considered workplace harassment" and supervisors need to receive specific instruction on "how to recognize and handle a workplace harassment incident". The employer should keep records of the information and instruction provided to its workers for at least one year.
Notably, the "Practice" sections list additional requirements that are not contemplated by the OHSA's new Workplace Harassment provisions, including, but not limited to:
- Indicating, in a Workplace Harassment Program, when an external person will be retained to conduct a workplace harassment investigation (for example, but not limited to, when the alleged harasser is a president, owner, high-level management or senior executive);
- A timeframe of 90 calendar days or less to complete an appropriate investigation, unless there are extenuating circumstances warranting a longer investigation (e.g. more than five witnesses or key witnesses unavailable due to illness);
- Listing seven steps to an investigation that an employer must complete, at a minimum, including giving the alleged harasser(s) the opportunity to respond to allegations raised and, in some circumstances, providing the worker who has experienced Workplace Harassment with a reasonable opportunity to reply; and
- That corrective action, if any, that is or will be taken as a result of the investigation, must be communicated in writing within 10 calendar days of the investigation being concluded.
The Code of Practice attaches a Sample Workplace Harassment Program, which provides guidance on addressing the Code of Practice's requirements.
The Ministry of Labour indicates that the Code of Practice is "designed to help employers meet their obligations" with respect to the OHSA's Workplace Harassment provisions. As such, it provides insight on the Ministry of Labour's expectations for developing, implementing and maintaining Workplace Harassment Policies and Programs. While employers do not need to comply with the Code of Practice's requirements to ensure compliance with the OHSA, a consideration of the information and requirements set out in the Code of Practice will help employers address Workplace Harassment in a manner that is consistent with the Act and the Ministry's expectations. The full text of the Code of Practice can be found here.
For more information, visit our Employment and Labour blog at www.employmentandlabour.com
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