On October 27, 2015, the Ontario Government introduced legislation as part of its action plan to stop sexual violence and harassment. Bill 132, An Act to amend various statutes with respect to sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence and related matters, presents changes to various statutes, aimed at making workplaces, university campuses, and communities safer, while recognizing the needs of survivors of sexual violence and harassment. Below are the key proposed amendments affecting employers.
Bill 132 proposes amendments to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Act and Private Career Colleges Act, 2005. Among other things, these amendments include adding the definition of “sexual violence”, and requiring colleges and universities to have sexual violence policies that outline the reporting process for incidents or complaints of sexual violence. Colleges or universities must ensure that student input is considered in the development, amendment, or review of sexual violence policies and regulations may require the implementation of additional measures.
Of significance to employers, Bill 132 would amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act to include the definition of “workplace sexual harassment” as a form of “workplace harassment”, and will require employers to include in their workplace harassment policies:
- procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment to someone other than the employer or supervisor;
- the employer’s investigative procedure;
- that the information reported will be treated as confidential unless disclosure is necessary to conduct the investigation, take corrective action, or is otherwise required by law; and
- that a worker will be informed of the results of the investigation and any corrective action that has been or will be taken.
Bill 132 puts an onus on employers to ensure that its workers are provided with these workplace harassment policies and receive appropriate instruction on their content, that the employer will ensure it adheres to these policies, and that the policies will be reviewed at least annually. Under Bill 132, an inspector will have the right to order an employer to conduct an investigation and obtain a report from an impartial person at the expense of the employer.
If passed, Bill 132 will not be significantly onerous for employers that already have detailed workplace harassment policies with a thorough investigative process and confidentiality provisions. However, employers should review their harassment policies to ensure that they meet the procedural requirements of Bill 132, while university policies should be reviewed for a reporting process for complaints of sexual violence, in anticipation of changes to legislation that further protects employees and students from sexual violence and harassment.