On October 27, 2015, Ontario's Minister Responsible for Women's Issues introduced Bill 132, Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (Supporting Survivors and Challenging Sexual Violence and Harassment), 2015 for First Reading. Bill 132 is part of the Ontario Government's March 6, 2015 action plan to stop sexual violence and harassment. The preamble to Bill 132 summarizes the focus of the legislation: "The Government will not tolerate sexual violence, sexual harassment or domestic violence. Protecting all Ontarians from their devastating impact is a top Government priority and is essential for the achievement of a fair and equitable society. All Ontarians would benefit from living without the threat and experience of sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence and other forms of abuse, and all Ontarians have a role to play in stopping them."
If passed, Bill 132 would change the limitation periods that currently apply to criminal sexual assault and impose additional requirements for universities, colleges and private career colleges with respect to sexual violence, among other amendments. Of particular interest to employers in Ontario are the proposed amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act ("OHSA"), set out in Schedule 4 of Bill 132. Bill 132 would amend the definition of "workplace harassment" to specifically include workplace sexual harassment, and would include a new definition for "workplace sexual harassment". The amendments would also modify the existing OHSA provisions requiring employers to have measures and procedures for: workers to report incidents of workplace harassment, investigation of complaints, when and what information can be disclosed in an investigation, and to whom, and informing a complainant and alleged harasser of the results of the investigation and of any corrective action. Finally, employers will have specific duties to protect a worker from workplace harassment, including ensuring that an investigation is conducted into incidents and complaints that is appropriate in the circumstances, informing the complainant of the results and any corrective action, and a review of the employer's workplace harassment program at least annually.
Employers would also be interested in the amendment to the OHSA that confirms "reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the workplace is not sexual harassment." Statements of that nature have often been included in workplace harassment policies as a matter of good practice; however, the amendment would provide clarity.
Details about the full extent of the amendments in Bill 132 can be found on the Legislative Assembly's Website, or by contacting one of BLG's Labour and Employment Lawyers. We will continue to monitor Bill 132's progress, and will provide further updates when new information is available.