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Ontario Introduces New Workplace Harassment & Violence Law

Bill 168, An act to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to violence and harassment in the workeplace and other matters (phew, that’s a mouthful) was introduced recently by the Ontario government.  Here is a nice summary of the Bill by the law firm McCarthy Tetrault’s labour group.

The law would require employers to develop and post policies on workplace violence and harassment. “Violence” is defined as the use of ‘physical force’.  Probably the most controversial item in the Bill is the requirement for the employer to inform workers when the will be working with a person with a history of violence and the “risk of workplace violence was likely to expose the worker to physical injury.”  That will require some careful decision-making by employers.

The ‘harassment’ definition borrows from the Human Rights Code language:  ”engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.”   Notably, though, unlike the prohibition on harassment under the HRC, the harassment policy required under the OHSA would not be limited to specific grounds (like sex, age, creed, etc.).   In other words, employers would now be required to have a policy that addresses harassment at work generally.  Under the new law, a worker will be able to refuse work when there is a risk of workplace violence, but not when they are victims of harassment.  

Of course, an employee who is the victim of harassment at work may be able to sue her employer for breach of contract or constructive dismissal, especially if the employer was aware of the harassment and failed to stop it.  The new requirement to post a harassment policy must include a method for employees to report harassment.  So, the new OHSA obligation may work in tandem with the common law obligation on employers to maintain a harassment free workplace:  an employee who is suffering harassment will be told how to report it, and if she reports it, and the employer fails to adequately respond, the employee’s breach of contract argument would be stronger.

Workplace harassment is now governed, therefore, by a range of mechanisms, including:  (1) the Human Rights Code in Section 5(2) in relation to designated grounds; and (2)  the common law rules of contract in the form of an implied obligation on employers to treat workers decently, a duty that includes an obligation to maintain a harassment free workplace.  The new law would add a third regime by requiring employers to maintain a harassment policy relating to all harassment.

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4 Responses to Ontario Introduces New Workplace Harassment & Violence Law

  1. Cynthia Reply

    August 11, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    I am being harassed at work by a co-worker and have told my manager and my district manager giving them my resignation and all I was told is that it would be taken care of and to please take it back and stay working with the company. Now my manager and the person that was harassing me are doing it together and when I went to my district manager once again he said what do you want me to do? I had said look I will leave and just let me find another job (crying for the at least dozenth time) he said it will be taken care of once again. Today I was given a verbal warning on filling my time sheets out before I leave and for not calling enough customers for VIP sales!!! What can I do. My manager said that she could let me go tomorrow but she said “I’m just saying I can” Help

    • Sue Reply

      June 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm

      Cynthia,

      I hope you got help on this. This is the exact problem employees are facing. I fear this will be an ongoing problem. Employers will harass employees and get away with it. We’re vulnerable. I noted that you posted some time ago. Do you have an update?

      • Deb Reply

        April 16, 2015 at 2:58 pm

        Employers harassing employees is a massive issue.
        My boss is an alcoholic who “works” from home – Except for the work part.
        She hides at home and refuses to deal with the problems that she causes.
        She constantly tries to find ways to blame staff her short comings.

        If we say black – guaranteed she’ll say white.

        We hate to see her come into the office.

        She won’t answer her phone or respond to employee emails. She refuses to deal with Clients and bill collectors – which is her job.

        under no circumstances will she co-operate, she is insecure and wants administrative staff to feel the same.

  2. Wendy Reply

    October 2, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    I work as a volunteer donkey grooming nurse, and have been for the past 4.5 years. For the past six months a new employee has been systematically bullying me, always when no one else is around to see or hear. After enduring this treatment for four months I began to document the abuse and now have 12 written entries, as of October 1st 2017.
    My boss is aware of some of the problems but has left it up to me to try and solve them myself. I am now afraid for my personal safety with this bullying employee. I have never done or said anything nasty to this employee. When she is nasty to me I ignore it.
    I dread going to work now and do my best to stay away from this employee who bullies me.
    Am I covered under Ontario Labour Laws even though I am not a paid employee?

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