Ontario employers face a deadline to ensure that appropriate policies and training, which address the new requirements imposed by Bill 168 and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), are in place and completed by June 15, 2010. The amendments introduce a new comprehensive approach to addressing violence and harassment in the workplace through policy and procedure. What follows are answers to some Frequently Asked Questions regarding the new requirements.

What is the definition of “workplace harassment” under the OHSA?

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.

This definition is broad and is not limited to harassment that is associated with a prohibited ground under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

What is the definition of “workplace violence” under the OHSA?

Workplace violence is not limited to the actual use of force, but includes the threat of violence. It is defined as:  

  • the exercise of physical force by a person against a worker, in a workplace, that causes or could cause physical injury to the worker;  
  • an attempt to exercise physical force against a worker, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to the worker; and/or  
  • statements or behaviour that it is reasonable for a worker to interpret as a threat to exercise physical force against the worker, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to the worker.  

What are the basic obligations for employers in respect of written policies for both workplace violence and workplace harassment?

The Bill 168 amendments to OHSA require employers to develop and maintain policies that address harassment, violence and threats of violence in the workplace. Such policies must be reviewed at least annually. In workplaces of more than five employees, the policies are to be written and posted in a conspicuous place in the workplace.

What should the workplace violence and harassment policy include?

Current legislation and regulations require the workplace violence policy to:

  • Provide a mechanism for workers to report incidents or threats of workplace violence to the employer or supervisor;  
  • Provide a process for the investigation of incidents, complaints or threats of workplace violence;
  • Control the risks identified in the workplace violence assessment; and  
  • Set out a procedure for contracting assistance when workplace violence occurs, may occur or when threats are made.  

When must a Workplace Violence Assessment be concluded?

The Workplace Violence Assessment should be concluded prior to June 15, 2010 so as to provide sufficient time to complete policies and training associated with the Bill 168 amendments.

How must an employer respond if it becomes aware of a “domestic violence” situation?

The employer must “take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances” where a situation arises that would likely expose a worker to physical injury. The employer must disclose personal information (as may be necessary) relating to such a risk of violence if:

  • The threat is from a person with a history of violent behaviour;  
  • The worker can be expected to encounter that person in the course of his/her work; and  
  • The risk of workplace violence is likely to expose the worker to physical injury.  

Can an employee refuse to perform work due to a concern regarding violence in the workplace?

Yes, as the OHSA permits an employee to refuse work that he or she considers to be unsafe. This includes a belief that the work is unsafe due to an issue of imminent violence in the workplace. The work refusal process under the OHSA must be followed and during an investigation, the worker engaging in the work refusal is to remain available for the investigation, but in a safe place that is near as reasonably possible to his/her work station.

What should employers be doing now, in advance of June 15, 2010?

  • Ontario employers should be doing the following:
  • Conducting a workplace risk assessment.  
  • Reviewing public and worker security protocols and procedures in the workplace.  
  • Developing, reviewing and/or amending current workplace violence and harassment policies to address the requirements imposed by Bill 168.  
  • Reviewing, implementing and concluding mandatory training of the policies and the reporting and investigation procedures regarding violence and harassment in the workplace.  
  • Engaging in discussions through Joint Health and Safety Committee.