Regrettably, harassment is an issue that affects many parties, employees and employers alike. In late 2017, significant amendments were made to the Occupational Health & Safety Act which defines the respective obligations of both parties in the employment relationship. Employers by this legislation are mandated to have a policy in place which deals with all forms of harassment.

“Workplace harassment” is defined as conduct “engaging in the 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 includes physical violence, sexual harassment and verbally abusive behaviour.

The offensive conduct may come from a fellow employee, a boss, a subordinate or even a person with whom the offended employee is required to deal with in business such as a customer or a contractor.

The amended statute does offer greater protections to the victimized employee, although it does not allow the employee the right to refuse work. This right, however, is allowed should the person believe they may be subjected to physical violence.

The Policy Document

The statute requires that companies create a policy document on workplace harassment and review it at least once a year. This is required of all employers, regardless of size. If there are six or more employees, the policy must be placed in a conspicuous place. The document must address these issues:

  1. The company’s dedication to properly deal with complaints of workplace harassment;
  2. A statement that harassment may emanate from supervisors, co-employees, customers and even domestic partners;
  3. It must provide details of the duties of each person in the workplace to address workplace harassment.

The policy document should encourage workers to report any concerns about harassment.

Workplace Harassment Program

The second requirement is that the company establish a set program to put the policy into action. This is a process that requires the input of the joint health and safety committee or a representative. It must contain these elements:

  1. A process by which complaints may be made to the employer or supervisor;
  2. An alternative process where the supervisor is the alleged wrongdoer;
  3. Specifics as to the means by which the complaint will be processed and investigated;
  4. Specifics as to how the identity of the complaining person will be protected or handled;
  5. Specifics as to how the investigative report will be given or disclosed to the complainant or how such person will be advised of any corrective or disciplinary action.

Once this second document is completed, we are not yet done. The employer must advise all workers of its contents, which will include full-time, part-time, contracting and temporary employees.

Take Away for All

The legislation is well intended to remove harassment from the workplace and to remedy these situations when required. It is detailed and more complex than set out above; the information here is simply an overview.

Get Advice Before You Act

Employers and employees alike should get advice on this issue, to develop and enforce these policies and procedures. For advice on this and similar issues and, indeed, any employment issue, contact the offices of Toronto employment and labour lawyers Mallins Law. We regularly advise employees and employers on legal workplace issues. Contact us online or by phone at 647-792-0310 to schedule a consultation.