Bill 168, which amends Ontario?s Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to violence and harassment in the workplace, received Royal Assent on December 15, 2009. It will come into force on June 15, 2010.

While six months (now less than five) may seem to be a long time to prepare for the Bill to come into force, employers should strongly consider implementing the necessary changes in their workplace as soon as possible as these can be lengthy and time consuming processes. Employers who leave these tasks to the last minute may find themselves in non-compliance with the law once the amendments come into force and the Occupational Health and Safety Act indicates that corporations that are in non-compliance with the Act can face penalties, including significant fines.

Five Things to Do Before June 15, 2010:

1. Conduct a Risk Assessment

The purpose of this assessment is to determine if any parts of the employer's operation are vulnerable to acts of violence. This assessment is later used to update and/or develop policies to control the identified risks. Unfortunately, the Bill does not explain how such an assessment is to be done. However, what is clear is that employers must ensure that they do a complete evaluation of their operations to ensure that the vulnerabilities to violence are identified and addressed.

2. Make Necessary Changes to the Workplace

Using the information gathered in the risk assessment, make the necessary changes to reduce the vulnerability to violence in the workplace.

For example, in the retail, bar and restaurant industry, (as well as other industries) there may be a susceptibility to client outbursts. If an employer identifies this as a risk for violence in the workplace, measures should be taken to reduce this risk, by installing easily accessible emergency security buttons. The installation of these security buttons will allow employees to call security and/or the police when they see suspicious, escalating or illegal behavior. It is easy to see how the ability to contact emergency services can significantly reduce the risk of employees being subject to violence.

3. Develop and Review Policies With Respect to Workplace Violence and Harassment

Employers must ensure that policies are in place to address: i) the findings of the risk assessment with respect to workplace violence; and ii) workplace harassment.

Using the example above, if there is a susceptibility to client outbursts, it may be necessary for employers to have a policy in place to address this issue. The policies can give employees a guide of the proper protocol to follow when faced with unruly or violent customers.

Employers also must ensure that a policy is in place to address the procedure for the reporting and investigating of workplace harassment complaints.

After the initial development, these policies must be reviewed as often as is “necessary” (i.e., when there are significant changes in the workplace which may affect violence and/or harassment), but at least annually.

These policies are critical documents as employers can face penalties from the Ministry of Labour for i) not developing policies in accordance with the Act; and/or ii) not complying with the policies when faced with a workplace violence and/or harassment issue.  

4. Develop and Maintain Programs to Implement the Policies

Employers must include in the programs measures and procedures:

  • To control the risks identified in the risk assessment;
  • For summoning immediate assistance when workplace violence occurs or is likely to occur;
  • For workers to report incidents of workplace violence or harassment; and
  • To state how the employer will investigate and deal with incidents or complaints of workplace violence or harassment.

Train Employees

Employers must provide information and instruction to their employees on the contents of the policies and programs. This training is critical as it implements all of the previously mentioned steps. Employees have the opportunity to learn what they can and must do to minimize risks in the workplace, what their obligations are in regards to the policies in place, and what the consequences are for non-compliance with the policies.

After reviewing the policies and programs with employees, an effective form of training is to present realistic fact patterns to their employees and to demonstrate how to apply the policies and programs to the fact patterns.

Preparing for the changes in the Occupational Health and Safety Act will be a lengthy and detailed process for employers. However, the changes to the legislation are an essential step in ensuring that employers are doing their part in reducing the risk of violence and harassment in their workplaces.