Worth Repeating: Bill 168 – Violence & Harassment in the Workplace – What’s New?

Bill 168 became law on June 15, 2010. At that time employers with 6 or more employees were supposed to ensure that they were in compliance with the requirements. Since we last revisited this topic, there is still little coverage in the Canadian media about the impact of this Act either on the prevalence of harassment/violence or the extent of compliance by employers. The latest available information from the Ministry of Labour reports that “In February and March 2013, ministry inspectors conducted 285 visits to 221 workplaces and issued 307 orders under the OHSA, including one stop work order”. At that time, the Ministry focused on hospitals, long term care facilities and residential group homes. This is just a sample of the Ontario workplace. Hopefully more information will be available soon as to how employees are faring in other industries.

Since three and a half years have now passed, it seems that unless this important amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety Act starts getting more media attention, it is in danger of failing the very workers it was designed to protect. Let’s make a stand today by ensuring violence and harassment in the workplace doesn’t continue for another day never mind another year.
By following the requirements of Bill 168, employers are able to identify sources of potential violence and take the steps necessary to help protect workers. It is not too late to implement a program in your workplace. Make a commitment today by refreshing your memory on what needs to be done to get in compliance and help prevent violence and harassment in the workplace.
Start by assessing your workplace for areas or practices that could foster violence or harassment. A thorough risk assessment will highlight any areas, practices or procedures that need to be controlled. Don’t forget the threat of domestic violence also needs to be addressed. The next step is to control the risks that you identified during the assessment. If you can’t eliminate a risk of violence, you must at least try to mitigate it.

Results of an assessment and your plan on how risks will be controlled should then be communicated to the Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) if you have one or the workers if not. Your workplace should be reassessed on an annual basis and whenever there are any significant changes to personnel or the work environment. In addition you need to develop and manage a program for preventing violence/harassment in the workplace. This means having a plan that will show how you will prevent violence and harassment, how incidents should be reported and how you will investigate any incidents. Along with the program, a policy on workplace violence and harassment should be developed and communicated to all employees, visitors and contractors to ensure that everyone knows what behaviour is expected of them and that violence or harassment in your workplace will not be tolerated. Employees need to be trained on prevention strategies for violence/harassment and the elements of Bill 168. It is also a good idea to include appropriate workplace behaviour training so employees know which behaviour is acceptable and which is not. Remember, your workers can refuse to work if they believe that they are in danger of workplace violence (not harassment) and you must investigate the work refusal.

Going forward you need to make sure that you make employees aware of any information in relation to risks of workplace violence as they become known. You should also train those who will conduct investigations or at least line up an external provider who will be available at short notice. Typically when an incident happens, you can’t waste time thinking about what needs to be done and who is going to do it, so plan ahead now.

If you haven’t implemented the requirements of Bill 168 yet, you are creating an unnecessary liability for your business. Unfortunately, violence or harassment is very much a reality in the workplace. Don’t think your business is immune; workers can get hurt no matter where they work.

Contributed by Bernadette Smith, CHRP, PMP
This article first appeared in the February 2012 In House Human Resources Newsletter and was updated for this issue.
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