Workers Health & Safety Centre

MOL issues Code of Practice on workplace harassment

MOL issues Code of Practice on workplace harassment
Ontario’s Ministry of Labour has introduced a voluntary Code of Practice to help employers comply with new requirements to address harassment in the workplace.
The Code of Practice to Address Workplace Harassment under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act follows changes to the Occupational Health & Safety Act (the Act) which expand employer duties to address workplace harassment, including sexual harassment. The amendments and Code take effect September 8, 2016.

Compliance challenges—Codes of Practice vs Regulation

The Act (Part III.1) empowers the Minister of Labour to enact Codes of Practice which can be used as a guide to meet a legal requirement in the Act or Regulations. Now available on the Ministry’s website, the Code consists of four parts, each with general information, relevant provisions of the Act and practice requirements. The Code also contains a sample policy and program and a suggested investigation process.
Unfortunately, unlike a prescriptive Regulation which sets out specific, legally enforceable requirements, a Code of Practice is voluntary. Many worry this may lead to confused and inconsistent enforcement.
These latest changes build upon Bill 168 amendments to the Act which took effect in June 2010 and introduced employer duties to develop workplace violence and harassment policies and programs. Ministry of Labour (MOL) enforcement reports reveal many workplaces still fail to understand and comply with existing requirements. Last summer a MOL blitz in the industrial sector focused on young and new workers issued 15 per cent of total orders for violations of the Act’s provisions on workplace violence and harassment.  
Others suggest the threat of inspectors’ new powers to order a workplace harassment investigation by an independent investigator at the employer’s expense, may help bolster compliance rates. Organized labour has asked the MOL for a roster of competent harassment investigators in addition to comprehensive training to support inspectors’ new mandate. 

Workplace harassment program expanded

Employers’ expanded duties under the Act specify they must develop and maintain a written harassment program in consultation with the joint health and safety committee (JHSC) or health and safety representative. The program must set out detailed measures and procedures for reporting and investigating workplace harassment incidents, including how investigation-related information and results are disclosed.
Harassment investigation reports are not deemed to be a health and safety report under the Act and legally employers do not have to share these with the JHSC. Without this information the committee’s ability to effectively monitor workplace harassment prevention efforts may be hindered.

Need for real prevention measures

Advocates for psychologically safe and healthy workplaces say the new employer duties, while a step in the right direction, are largely reactive in nature. The amendments and Code expand and help clarify employers’ duties to address workplace harassment, but they lack a specific prevention mandate and do not require employers to assess the workplace for the risk of harassment as is the case for workplace violence. Risk factors for harassment that go unaddressed often escalate into workplace violence.
In a submission to the Ministry of Labour, the Ontario Nurses’ Association suggest that unless employers are specifically required to recognize, assess and take steps to control workplace harassment those efforts will fall to vulnerable worker victims who may lack confidence or ability to drive that action.
With this shift in onus, the Ontario Federation of Labour is repeating calls for better reprisal protection for workers who report incidents of workplace harassment, especially when the alleged offender is someone in a position of authority.
Many also support a more preventative approach such as adopting the Canadian Standards Association National Standard on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (CSA-Z1003-13). Commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the Standard focuses on promoting worker psychological health and preventing psychological harm related to workplace factors. Workplaces implementing the Standard have reported significant improvements in worker wellbeing and productivity.
Other related resources:

WHSC Workplace Violence & Harassment Prevention Resources

Ontario employers have significant duties to address workplace violence and harassment including a duty to provide information and instruction to workers. The Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) is updating its three-hour Workplace Violence and Harassment Prevention Training program to include these amendments and the new Code of Practice. Designed to help workplace parties better understand workplace violence, harassment and bullying and to fully comply with all legal obligations, the program will be available in the weeks to come. Also, check out WHSC’s updated compliance checklists for employers and workers and fact sheets on workplace violence, harassment and bullying.
Need information? Check out WHSC Workplace Violence Resources
To learn more:
Call:     1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a WHSC training services representative.