Picture a scenario where a co-worker casually confides that her husband is concerned about the possibility he will lose his job. She recounts an argument over money which led to his pushing her. She expresses concern as to where this could lead.
Is this a private chat or an issue for human resources?
When amendments to Ontario’s Occupational Health & Safety Act on domestic violence in the workplace (also being considered in other provinces) become law later this year, employees’ domestic problems will also become those of their employers.
Under the amendments, the colleague confided in must report the information to the employer, which is then obliged to inquire into the domestic situation of the co-worker.
Will the employer be obliged to give notice to all employees to be wary of the co-worker’s husband? Must it contact the husband’s employer? And what obligations will the husband’s employer have? When do the police get called in? The answers will depend on the findings of a mandatory investigation that will be analyzed with ever-increasing exactitude by the authorities.
In addition, employers will be required to create a violence policy and program that instructs employees on violence. Workers are obligated to report incidents or threats of workplace violence. A complaint process and investigation procedure is proscribed.
So much for privacy legislation: The new amendments burden employers with unrealistic obligations to deal with domestic discord. Employers who become aware of domestic violence that might expose a worker to injury in the workplace are now required to protect that worker.
For years, I have warned employers against probing into employees’ lives. These amendments effectively legislate employers into the homes and bedrooms of employees, and will generate concomitant legal proceedings for invasion of privacy, discrimination and reprisal, if job action ensues.
Employers are already accountable for violent injuries in the workplace, whether from an unbalanced employee, a disgruntled former employee, or even a stranger. Workplace violence is addressed through a myriad of safety statutes that impose a general duty on employers to ensure the safety of all workers.
The amendments are an unnecessary duplication of existing laws and create risk of fines and imprisonment for non-compliance at a time when employers are struggling just to remain in business. While violence is unacceptable anywhere, the answer to eradicating it at work is not more legislation.