In November of 2014 we reported on Premier Wynne’s announcement that the Government of Ontario would be striking a special committee to make recommendations to the Legislature regarding the prevention of sexual violence and harassment in Ontario workplaces (the “Select Committee”). The Select Committee’s mandate was also to advise on how best to improve responses to people who have experienced sexual violence and harassment and to present recommendations on how to remove social and other barriers that prevent people from coming forward to report sexual harassment and violence.
The Select Committee was initially tasked with delivering an Interim Report on their findings by June 4, 2015, a deadline which was later extended to June 24, 2015. The Interim Report is now available on the website of the Legislative Assembly. It addresses a very wide range of issues pertaining to sexual violence and harassment in Ontario but does contain a focused discussion on how to prevent and address sexual harassment in Ontario workplaces. Some of the recommendations that are being considered by the committee include:
- Requiring employers to promote proactive and accessible policies and procedures that encourage reporting;
- Mandating training that encourages bystander interventions in incidents of sexual harassment or violence;
- Creating a separate tribunal dedicated to receiving complaints of workplace sexual harassment;
- Amending the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act to provide benefits to employees who have experienced psychological trauma as a result of workplace harassment;
- Funding legal clinics dedicated to providing support and information to people who have experienced workplace sexual harassment and violence;
- Amending the Occupational Health & Safety Act (“OHSA”) to specifically protect whistleblowers who notify employers of alleged sexual harassment and violence at work;
- Making workplace training on domestic violence mandatory under OHSA; and
- Having the Ministry of Labour oversee workplace investigations into incidents of sexual harassment and violence and also evaluate the outcomes, with the power to substitute their own decision for that of the employer.
None of these recommendations have been adopted by the Select Committee and we have no indication of how many of them will be included in its Final Report, which is set to be presented to the Legislative Assembly and/or released to the public no later than December 10, 2015.
Many of the suggestions noted in the Interim Report would significantly change legal options and obligations surrounding workplace violence and harassment. It is unlikely that they will all be adopted by the Select Committee and presented to the provincial government. However, it seems probable that as a result of this process the provincial government will be asked to consider amendments to both the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act and OHSA.