Employers: update your Workplace Harassment policy. Amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act come into force September 2016.

April 7th, 2016 by Shelina Ali

Bill 132, Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act received royal assent on March 8, 2016 and will come into force in September 2016.   It makes several important amendments to the provisions dealing with workplace harassment in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the Act).

Workplace sexual harassment is now explicitly included in the definition of workplace harassment and is a defined term under the Act.   The amendments also clarify that a reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor in managing employees does not constitute harassment.  A reasonable action is not defined under the Act, and will need to be determined on a case by case basis.

The amendments set out new requirements for an organization’s workplace harassment policy.  In addition to previous requirements, the policy must now include:

  • measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment to a person other than the employer or supervisor, in cases where the employer or supervisor is the alleged harasser;
  • a requirement that information obtained about an incident or complaint of workplace harassment, including identifying information about any individuals involved, will not be disclosed to any person, other than those individuals investigating the complaint, unless the disclosure is necessary for the purposes of investigating or taking corrective action with respect to the incident or complaint, or is otherwise required by law; and
  • a statement as to how an employee who has allegedly experienced workplace harassment and the alleged harasser (if he or she is also an employee) will be informed of the results of the investigation and of any corrective action resulting from it..

The amendments also provide an employer with duties related to protecting employees from workplace harassment. Employers must:

  • investigate incidents and complaints of workplace harassment in a manner that is appropriate to the circumstances;
  • ensure that the employee who has allegedly experienced workplace harassment and the alleged harasser are informed in writing of the results of the investigation and of any corrective action;
  • ensure that the workplace harassment policies and programs are regularly reviewed (at least annually) and adequately implemented.

The changes allow an inspector under the Act issue an order requiring, at the employer’s cost, a third party to conduct an investigation and produce a report of its findings if the employer fails to do so.

All employers should ensure that their current policies comply with these changes and that they are aware of their duty to address workplace harassment.   Failure to comply with the Act can lead to a fine of up to $500,000 for a corporation or for an individual, a fine of $25,000 and/or imprisonment for a term of up to 12 months.

Filed in: Employment Law

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