The Ontario Government has proposed Bill 168 which, if passed, will require employers to fulfill many new responsibilities with respect to preventing workplace violence and harassment.
The Ontario Government introduced a new bill for its First Reading on April 20, 2009. Bill 168, entitled An Act to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to violence and harassment in the workplace and other matters, will introduce, if passed by Parliament, definitions for both workplace violence and workplace harassment, as well as many new employer responsibilities.
These new responsibilities that Bill 168 places upon employers will include: preparation of workplace policies with respect to workplace violence and harassment; reviewing these workplace polices at least annually; developing a program at the workplace to implement the workplace violence policy; assessments by the employer of the risk of workplace violence occurring; and reporting the results of these assessments to either the joint health and safety committee or to a health and safety representative. In addition to these responsibilities, two further responsibilities will be placed upon employers by Bill 168, both of which are questionable in their scope and application.
One of these additional responsibilities is found in section 32.0.4 of the Act. This section will require, as stated in the Explanatory Note of the Bill, that “if an employer is aware or ought to be aware that domestic violence that is likely to expose a worker to physical injury may occur in the workplace, the employer must take every reasonable precaution to protect the worker.” This requirement may place a large burden on the employer depending on how the term “domestic violence” is defined for purposes of the Act. If the definition is very narrow, then the employer will be only held responsible for those limited forms of domestic violence. However, if the term is defined much more broadly to include forms of domestic violence that may not be commonly thought of by the employer as falling under that term, then the employer may have a more difficult time fulfilling their duty under this section of the Act.
The other employer responsibility that Bill 168 purposes is found in section 32.0.5(3) of the Act. This section will require an employer to make personal information about an employee with respect to their history of workplace violence available to any co-worker who “…can be expected to encounter that [employee] in the course of his or her work” and “the risk of workplace violence is likely to expose the worker to physical injury.” A potential problem which may stem from this section is the employer running the risk of violating an employee’s right to privacy. Although section 32.0.5(4) of the Act states “No employer or supervisor shall disclose more personal information in the circumstances described in subsection (3) than is reasonably necessary to protect the worker from physical injury”, an employer may be vulnerable to an employee claiming that they provided co-workers with more information then was necessary, thereby invading the employee’s privacy. Additionally, this requirement of providing co-workers with such personal information is only in relation to workplace violence. There is no corresponding section in Bill 168 which requires an employer to provide information to co-workers with respect to an employee’s history of workplace harassment.
Despite these two questionable sections, Bill 168 seems to be a positive step taken by the Ontario Government to provide protection for both employees and employers in regards to workplace violence and harassment. Given the number of new responsibilities that the Bill will place on employers, and corresponding rights for employees, both employers and employees should be aware of what Bill 168 contains and what changes should be expected in the workplace if it is given Royal Assent.
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