Safety First and Last: We can't ignore harrassment in the workplace any more

We need to deal with it
Jeff Thorne
August 20, 2018
By Jeff Thorne
Over the past year there has been a spotlight on workplace violence, harassment and sexual harassment. Allegations have run rampant in the media, sports, entertainment and politics.
We continue to hear reports of toxic cultures deeply entrenched in large Canadian institutions such as the RCMP, the Canadian military, Corrections Canada and most recently Canada Post.

In Ontario, the Ministry of Labour has seen an increase of more than 100 per cent in workplace harassment complaints since Bill 132 – The Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act came into force in September 2016. In the first year following Bill 132 there were approximately 5,000 calls regarding workplace and sexual harassment. These calls resulted in almost 2,200 complaints and over 1,500 field visits from specially trained Ministry inspectors.

We are now seeing individuals speaking out, coming forward and sharing their stories. These stories can no longer fall on deaf ears. There has and continues to be a tangential shift in the way allegations are being viewed. We are finally seeing consequences applied to those that have exhibited poor or intolerable behaviour.

In November 2017, the federal government introduced Bill C-65. Part of the bill was an amendment to the Canada Labour Code to strengthen the existing framework for the prevention of harassment and violence, including sexual harassment and sexual violence in the workplace. The Bill is aimed at eliminating toxic behaviours in federally regulated and parliamentary workplaces. The changes would bring together separate labour standards for sexual harassment and violence and subject them to the same scrutiny and dispute resolution process. Once the legislation is adopted, anyone who is unhappy with how their dispute is being handled internally could complain to the federal labour minister, who could step in to investigate. This is a positive step forward, clearly identifying that unwanted behaviour will not be tolerated at any level.

Provincially, every province except the Yukon, Quebec and New Brunswick has some form of legislation on the topic of workplace violence and harassment. Out of the nine jurisdictions that currently have workplace violence legislation, four also have separate provisions for workplace harassment. Quebec currently has legislation addressing psychological harassment but nothing specific to workplace violence.

New Brunswick has introduced new regulations under the General Regulations – Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) aimed at identifying and preventing workplace violence and harassment. These new regulations are similar to those of Ontario’s and will come into force Sept. 1.

Throughout all Canadian legislation on workplace violence and workplace harassment, none treat the topic of workplace violence and harassment as one issue, therefore employers must pay close attention to their policies and programs to ensure legislative differences are captured. The main reason jurisdictions treat violence and harassment separately is because they have different program requirements. Program elements for workplace violence must include a risk assessment. Employers have the responsibility to assess the risk of workplace violence that may arise based on the nature, type and conditions of work. Employers may also have to consider circumstances that would be common to similar workplaces. A thorough risk assessment is the prime driver that sets up the workplace violence program. The program must include measures and procedures to control the identified risks. Employers must also have a structured process for reporting and investigation and clearly outline the consequences of policy violation.

Program elements for workplace harassment differ slightly as a risk assessment for harassment is not required and the reporting structure needs to clearly identify who to report harassment to if the alleged harasser is the supervisor or manager. This is a key aspect of the harassment program.

We hear about incidents almost every day and statistics that are available clearly indicate this workplace hazard needs to be addressed.  


Jeff Thorne is manager of training for Occupational Safety Group.

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