On September 8, 2016, Bill 132, also known as the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (Supporting Survivors and Challenging Sexual Violence and Harassment), 2016, came into force.

Bill 132 amends the workplace harassment provisions of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA”). Employers will now have to ensure that their harassment policies contain a number of specific provisions, including a definition of workplace sexual harassment and measures that allow employees to report incidents of workplace harassment or sexual harassment to a person other than their supervisor, if the supervisor is the harasser. Bill 132 also gives the Ministry of Labour new powers to appoint an independent investigator to investigate workplace harassment complaints, at the employer’s expense.

Bill 132 also creates new a new duty for employers to ensure that complaints of workplace harassment are investigated in a manner that is “appropriate in the circumstances”. The phrase “appropriate in the circumstances” is not defined in the new legislation, but suggests that employers may be liable if they fail to properly investigate a complaint of workplace harassment or workplace sexual harassment.

Employers should take the following steps to ensure they are ready for Bill 132:

  • Review your workplace harassment policy and program to ensure that they include the following elements:
    • a definition of workplace sexual harassment
    • a procedure for complaints where the harasser is the employee’s supervisor
    • a statement that confidential information will not be disclosed unless necessary for the investigation or required by law
    • a procedure for informing a complainant and the alleged harasser of the result of the investigation in writing
  • Provide training to all employees on their rights and responsibilities under the updated workplace harassment policy and program
  • Ensure that all managers know how to respond to complaints of workplace harassment and workplace sexual harassment, including the proper channels of communication and how to conduct an appropriate investigation (if applicable)

The Ministry of Labour is hiring close to 30 new inspectors in order to monitor employer compliance with Bill 132. Employers should be proactive in ensuring that their policies and programs are updated in a timely manner, and seek assistance from labour and employment counsel as needed.