There are new obligations for Ontario employers coming this September which are sure to keep many Human Resources professionals busy in the coming weeks creating or updating their company's anti-sexual harassment policy.
Why? As of March 8, 2016, Bill 132 received Royal Assent at the legislative Assembly of Ontario making it clear that sexual harassment is a workplace safety issue. As there have been an increasing number of high profile sexual harassment cases in the media in the last 12 months, it is no wonder that the Ontario Government has pushed their sexual violence and harassment action plan through the political engine at such an expedited pace. One of the biggest changes is that the Act amends the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and requires employers to take action at the beginning of September.
* Bill 132 expands on Bill 168 (introduced in 2010 -- obligating employers to create workplace violence and harassment polices and programs to protect workers.) Bill 132 protects workers from sexual harassment in that the definition has been broadened to include "workplace sexual harassment".
The definition reads:
"engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in the workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, where the course of comment or conduct is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome; or
making a sexual solicitation or advance where the person making the solicitation or advance is in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the worker and the person knows or ought reasonably to know that the solicitation or advance is unwelcome."
Here's the quick run down of what employers with 5 or more employers need to ensure is in place by September 8, 2016:
* Someone in the organization needs to receive training on investigating workplace harassment complaints;
* All supervisors need to be trained on workplace harassment so they can identify "incidents and complaints" of workplace harassment or the Ministry of Labour may be in a position to order an investigation by an outside investigator at the company's expense;
* the organization needs to prepare a policy specifically addressing investigations and related procedures to comply with Bill 132 or they need to amend their current policy to do so. Of particular note, the investigator's mandate must be clear and determined upfront given the results of the investigation must be disclosed to the person who has been allegedly harassed.
* Employers will now be obligated to develop a written program to respond to issues of harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace. If they already have a program and policy in place, they need to review it at least annually. The program must include the following:
1) measurers for reporting incidents of workplace harassment to a person other than the employer/supervisor if the employer/supervisor is the alleged harasser;
2) detail how incidents or complaints of workplace harassment will be investigated and handled;
3) detail how information about an incident or complaint of workplace harassment won't be disclosed;
4) detail how the alleged victim and harasser (if a worker) will be informed of the investigation results and any corrective action arising from the investigation;
Of note, the Ontario Ministry of Labour's inspectors will now have the power to order an employer to use a third party to investigate a workplace harassment incident and to issue a written report at the employer's expense.
Our team will continue to monitor Bill 132 in light of any further guidelines. For more information, please contact us. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Dave Dickinson, B.Comm, CFP, CLU, CHFC
Experienced Benefits Specialist ready to optimize your group benefits and pension plans.