Originally published in Blakes Bulletin on Labour &
Employment, March 2010
On June 15, 2010, amendments to Ontario's Occupational
Health and Safety Act, which address workplace violence and
harassment, will become law. These amendments designate workplace
violence and harassment as occupational health and safety hazards
in Ontario and require that employers take steps to prevent and
properly respond to workplace harassment and violence. Employers in
Ontario have 12 weeks left to consider and implement the following
five requirements in their workplaces:
1. CONDUCT AN ASSESSMENT OF THE RISK OF WORKPLACE VIOLENCE
Employers are required to assess the risk of violence in their
workplaces and to report the results of the assessment to their
joint health and safety committee or health and safety
representative. If a workplace does not have a committee or
representative, then the employer is required to report the results
directly to its workforce. Employers are also required to re-assess
the risks of workplace violence as often as is necessary to protect
A risk assessment must consider the nature of the workplace, the
type of work and the conditions of work in the workplace. The risk
assessment must be conducted with regard to the circumstances that
would be common to similar workplaces as well as circumstances
specific to the workplace.
However, the manner in which employers perform the risk
assessment is not mandated by the legislation and will likely
depend, in part, on the workplace in question. Further, the Ontario
Ministry of Labour has not yet released any guidelines to help
employers comply with this requirement. Common sense suggests that
when conducting a risk assessment, employers should review past
incident or accident reports, security reports, workplace
inspection reports, training records, disciplinary records, company
policies and standards as well as industry best practices.
Guidelines from other Canadian jurisdictions suggest that employers
should conduct employee surveys or at minimum, involve their
workforce in the assessment in some other manner.
2. PREPARE POLICIES ON WORKPLACE VIOLENCE AND HARASSMENT
Employers must prepare policies to address workplace violence
and harassment and review the policies, at minimum, on an annual
basis. For workplaces with more than five employees, the policies
must be in writing and posted in the workplaces.
Again, the content of the policies is not mandated by the
legislation and the Ministry of Labour has not created guidelines
addressing this issue. However, employers should take care to
tailor their policies to suit their individual work
3. PREPARE PROGRAMS ON WORKPLACE VIOLENCE AND HARASSMENT
Employers are required to develop programs to implement the
workplace violence and harassment policies in their workplaces.
The workplace violence program must include measures to control
the risks of workplace violence identified in the risk assessment
and measures to summon immediate assistance when workplace violence
occurs. Both the workplace violence and harassment programs must
include measures for workers to report incidents and set out how
the employer will deal with incidents or complaints.
4. CONSIDER THE RISK OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
The legislation states that if an employer is aware or ought
reasonably to be aware, that domestic violence that would likely
expose a worker to physical injury, may occur in the workplace,
employers are required to take reasonable precautions to protect
workers. Therefore, employers must keep this particular hazard in
mind when conducting their workplace assessment and when
implementing policies and programs.
5. PROVIDE INFORMATION AND INSTRUCTION TO WORKERS
Employers are obligated to provide information and instruction
regarding the contents of the policies and programs to their
workers. Therefore, beyond developing policies and programs,
employers should consider providing training session(s) to review
the new policies and programs.
In addition, employers are required to provide information to a
worker about any person with a history of violent behaviour if the
worker can be expected to encounter that person in the course of
his or her work and the risk of workplace violence is likely to
expose the worker to physical injury. The amount of information
disclosed should only be that information which is reasonably
necessary to protect the worker from physical injury; however, it
does include personal information.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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