The new workplace violence and harassment laws become effective this June. Briefly, the law will require provincially-regulated Ontario employers to take a number of steps aimed at responding to and reducing the potential for workplace violence and harassment. These proposed amendments follow on the heels of similar amendments enacted by other jurisdictions in Canada, including the federal government.

Key aspects of the amendments include:

  • Initial Assessment: Employers must conduct an assessment to determine the risk of workplace violence arising based on the nature of the workplace and the type of work performed.
  • Implement Policies & Procedures: Employers must implement workplace violence and harassment policies and procedures to control any risks identified in the initial assessment, and to report and investigate any incidents of workplace violence or harassment.
  • Employer’s Disclosure Obligations: Employers and supervisors may be required to disclose personal information to a worker about individuals with a known history of violent behaviour if (a) the worker is likely to encounter the individual(s) in the course of his or her work, and (b) there is a risk that the worker will be exposed to physical injury.
  • Employer’s Obligations Extend Beyond the Workplace: If an employer “ought reasonably” be aware of domestic violence that could likely expose a worker to injury in the workplace, the employer must take steps to ensure the safety of the worker.

Remember these requirements dovetail with existing OHSA obligations:

  • Potential Penalties: Individuals and corporations who fail to comply with these amendments will be subject to the penalty provisions of the OHSA, which include fines of up to $500,000 for corporations.
  • Directors and Officers personal liability: Corporate directors and officers have personal liability to take “all reasonable care to ensure that the corporation complies” with the OHSA. When these amendments become law on June 15th, the directors and officers liability will extend to these new workplace violence and harassment requirements.

To further complicate matters, it is possible that in workplaces where an employer has failed to comply with the above requirements and an employee is injured or dies due to workplace violence, the employer may be subject to criminal sanctions for “recklessly breaching” their duty under the Canadian Criminal Code to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of workers.