Bill 168 is an amendment to Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”). It came into force on June 15, 2010 and aims to protect workers from violence and harassment. The Bill outlines stiff penalties for all employers in Ontario who fail to meet their new responsibilities and duties under the law.
Employers are now required to asses risks of workplace violence and harassment, to develop corresponding policies and procedures for investigating and handling complaints and incidents, and to implement proper communication and programs for protecting workers.
What are Workplace Harassment and Violence?
According to the Bill, workplace harassment occurs when a worker in the workplace is the victim of a course of vexatious comments or conduct that is known, or ought reasonably to have been known, to be unwelcome.
Workplace violence occurs when a worker in the workplace is the victim of the exercise of physical force that causes or could cause physical injury. Violence could also include an attempt to exercise such force, or a statement or behaviour that could be reasonably interpreted as a threat to exercise such force.
Assessing the Risks of Workplace Violence
Each employer now has the obligation to assess the risks of workplace violence. Such violence may arise from a number of predisposing factors such as the nature of the workplace, the type of work, and the conditions of work. Furthermore, the employer must also reassess the risks as often as is necessary to ensure that related policies and programs continue to be adequate in protecting workers from workplace violence.
Developing Policies to Protect Workers
Employers are required to prepare policies on workplace violence and harassment. Employers must also review these policies as often as is necessary to ensure their continued effectiveness. The minimum required frequency for policy review is annually.
Implementing Protection Programs
Employers are required to develop and maintain programs to implement the policies that govern workplace violence and harassment. At a minimum, the content of these programs includes:
• measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace violence and harassment to the employer;
• procedures that the employer will follow for investigating and dealing with incidents and complaints of workplace harassment;
• measures and procedures to control the risks identified in the risks assessment;
• measures and procedures for summoning immediate assistance when workplace violence occurs or is likely to occur; and,
• any prescribed elements.
Protecting Against Domestic Violence in the Workplace
If an employer becomes aware, or ought reasonably 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 precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect the worker.
Providing Warnings about Workers with a History of Violence
An employer may be aware that a worker has a history of violent behavior. If another worker can be expected to encounter this person in the course of his or her work and the risk of workplace violence involving the violent worker is likely, then the employer has a duty to provide the employee with information (including personal information) related to such a risk of workplace violence. However, no employer shall disclose more personal information than is reasonably necessary to protect workers from physical injury.
Consequences for Failing to Comply
Failure to comply with the Bill’s provisions may result in fines to a maximum of $500,000 for corporations, and up to $25,000 or 12 months imprisonment for individuals.
For related case studies and more information on Bill 168 – Ontario’s Law on Workplace Violence and Harassment, search our blog.