Employers in Ontario have been legally required to provide a workplace free of violence and harassment since the enactment in 2010 of Bill 168, an amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Since that time, many companies have developed and implemented the required policies and procedures, including training sessions to ensure everyone in the organization understands their responsibilities. Many, however, have done nothing.
It is my sense that some companies may be gambling that government enforcers will never visit and ask to review their Bill 168 compliance programs. What they are overlooking, however, is the fact that there is a good chance without policies in place that a harassment complaint or incident of violence will result in charges under the Act. Anyone found in violation of the Act faces fines of up to $25,000 for individuals and $500,000 for corporations. Additionally, offenders can be jailed up to 12 months.
The bigger liability risk, however, would come from a potential lawsuit by an employee put at risk because of a company’s lack of action to protect them. If your front-line managers have not been properly trained, they probably won’t be able to spot and deal with warning signals. For example, did you know that there is a direct link between incidents of domestic violence and violence in the workplace? That’s why domestic violence has been included in Bill 168 regulations.
Domestic violence is in fact the fastest growing type of workplace violence in Canada according to a study by the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS). And about 70 per cent of domestic violence cases spill into the workplace according to the Journal of Occupational Health and Psychology. Many companies still believe that domestic violence is a private issue, and that they should not pry into the lives of their employees outside of the workplace. But ignoring the signs puts your business at risk that an abusive spouse will one day walk into the workplace and injure people.
Without a proper plan in place to meet the requirements of Bill 168, your business will face serious consequences. We have developed some simple steps to help businesses comply with the requirements of the act, while giving employees a sense of comfort that their workplace is a safe haven. It is a requirement that you develop and implement a policy for addressing workplace violence and harassment, and that you conduct a complete risk assessment, including:
– Review of past incidents;
– Employee survey to identify potential risk factors;
– Physical survey of the workplace;
– Complete inventory of potential risk and controls.
You must also develop and post a Policy and Procedures Manual:
– Tailored to your workplace;
– Includes tools for employees to report actual or potential risks.
Simply developing procedures is not enough. The government wants you to show that you have provided training so that everyone in your organization understands their responsibilities. This includes documentation to show:
– On or off-site training on the policy and procedures;
– Employees understand how to use reporting tools;
– Extra training for managers/supervisors;
– Proof that all employees fully understand the policies and procedures relating to workplace violence and harassment.
The Ontario government has indicated it is serious about preventing violence and harassment in the workplace. As an employer, you put your business, your employees, and yourself at risk by not dealing with the requirements of Bill 168. You cannot afford to ignore the issue of workplace violence and harassment.