On April 20, 2009, the Ontario Minister of Labour introduced legislation (Bill 168) that, if passed, would amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to violence and harassment in the workplace. The Bill follows on the heels of the Ministry of Labour’s “Consultation Paper on Workplace Violence Prevention” which was concluded on October 17, 2008.
In the proposed legislation, “workplace violence” is defined as the exercise of physical force or the attempt to exercise physical force against a worker in a workplace that causes or could cause physical injury to the worker. “Workplace harassment” is defined as 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.
Employers would be required to develop workplace violence and harassment polices, and to review these policies at least once a year. Risk assessments of workplace violence would have to be conducted. The assessment results would then have to be reported to the organization’s Joint Health and Safety Committee or to a Health and Safety Representative. Where no committee or representative exists, the results would have to be reported to the workers. The risk would then have to be reassessed as often as is necessary to protect workers from workplace violence and harassment.
Programmes would have to be developed by employers to implement the workplace violence and harassment policies. Workplace violence programmes would have to include the following measures and procedures to: control risks of workplace violence identified in the risk assessment; ensure immediate assistance is summoned when workplace violence occurs; require workers to report incidents or threats of workplace violence; and set out how the employer will investigate and deal with incidents, complaints or threats of workplace violence. On the other hand, workplace harassment programmes would have to include measures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment and set out how the employer will investigate and deal with incidents, complaints or threats of workplace harassment. Employers would then be required to provide workers with information and instruction on the contents of its workplace violence and harassment policies and programmes.
Employers would be obliged to take every reasonable precaution to protect workers from injury in the workplace that may result from domestic violence. Workers would be permitted to refuse work and remove themselves from harmful situations if they have reason to believe that they are at risk of imminent danger due to workplace violence. In these situations, workers would be required to remain in a safe place near their work stations where they would be available to their employer or supervisor until the investigation is complete. However, in the case of workers with a limited right to refuse work, the proposed amendment provides authority to make regulations specifying situations where a danger to the health or safety of a worker will be considered to be inherent in the workers’ work or a normal condition of employment.
The proposed amendment also places a duty upon employers to provide personal information to employees regarding persons with a history of violent behaviour, where the worker can be expected to encounter that person in the course of his or her work, and the risk of workplace violence is likely to expose the worker to physical injury.