Sexual harassment and violence have dominated the media of late. Women and men have come forward with public allegations of harassment and assault against high-profile figures, and survivors of sexual violence around the world have taken to social media to share their experiences and support.
Fulfilling a promise made during the 2015 election campaign, the federal government has stepped up to address the systemic problem of sexual violence. The proposed legislation will further extend employer and employee rights and obligations in the workplace.
The findings of a recent report entitled “Harassment and sexual violence in the workplace” were the impetus for proposed legislation introduced by parliament earlier this month. Bill C-65, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (harassment and violence), the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1, is aimed at the prevention of workplace sexual harassment and violence and the protection of workers from domestic violence in federally regulated workplaces. If passed, the legislation will amend the Canada Labour Code with respect to the prevention of workplace harassment and violence, and enact health and safety obligations into the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act.
The proposed legislation would bring sexual violence within the ambit of occupational health and safety and require the investigation and reporting of such incidents. Under the current system, employers are only required to have a policy in place.
The bill, which applies to both federally-regulated and the federal parliamentary workplace, had its First Reading on November 7, 2017. Most of the changes proposed under the bill involve Part II of the Canada Labour Code entitled “Occupational Health and Safety”. Amendments to the legislation would, among other things,
- specifically recognize psychological injuries and illnesses in the preventative purpose of Part II;
- create specific duties for employers to:
- investigate, record and report all known occurrences of harassment or violence; and,
- take prescribed measures to prevent and protect against harassment and violence in the workplace, to respond to such occurrences and to offer support to employees affected by workplace harassment and violence;
- require that complaints of violence or harassment that are not resolved between the employee and supervisor be referred directly to the Minister, who would be obligated to investigate the complaint unless the Minister is of the opinion that the complaint has been adequately dealt with and the matter is trivial, frivolous or vexatious;
- repeal the current provisions, which allow an employer to request an exemption from establishing a workplace health and safety committee where the work being done by employees at the workplace is relatively free from risks to health and safety, with a limited transitional provision.
Amendments to the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act apply to parliamentary employees, such as employees of the House of Commons, the Senate, the Parliamentary Protective Service, the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Library of Parliament. Bill C-65 would extend Part II of the Canada Labour Code to these employees in the same manner and to the same extent as if the employer were a federal work, undertaking or business.
Notably, Bill C-65 does not mandate specific sanctions for perpetrators of harassment and violence where such conduct is determined to have occurred. However, the bill is still in the early stages of the legislative process, and will likely undergo significant revision before it becomes law.
While the proposed changes will apply to only about eight percent of the national workforce, Maryam Monsef, the Minister of the Status of Women, has said that the hope is that they will inspire the private sector to follow suit. Sexual violence in the workplace, and in society at large, has certainly been receiving increasing attention in recent months; hopefully, the federal government’s attention to the issue will provide the impetus for all employers to ensure that their employees are safe from sexual harassment and abuse.
Minken Employment Lawyers is your source for expert advice and advocacy on today’s employment law issues. Whether you are an employer or an employee, we can help. Contact us at 905 477-7011 to see how.
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