Employers in Canada are obligated to ensure that their employees are protected from workplace harassment and violence. The federal government and most provinces in Canada set out detailed workplace harassment and violence regimes in their health and safety legislation.*
In this workplace harassment and violence primer, we review these fundamental requirements.
*Note: British Columbia and Nova Scotia’s health and safety laws focus on preventing workplace violence, though Nova Scotia includes a general protection against harassment in its Human Rights Act. Quebec does not include a workplace harassment and violence regime similar to the one discussed below. However, Quebec sets out a general duty to protect workers from physical or psychological violence in the workplace in its Act respecting occupational health and safety, plus a requirement to prevent and stop psychological harassment in the Act respecting labour standards.)
What Constitutes Workplace Harassment and Violence?
Generally, workplace harassment refers to objectionable comments or conduct against a worker that can be reasonably expected to be unwelcome or to cause offence, humiliation or injury. This may include bullying, sexual harassment or harassment related to a protected ground under human rights legislation.
Workplace violence tends to mean threatened, attempted or actual conduct that causes or is likely to cause physical (and in some jurisdictions, psychological) injury or harm. Alberta, New Brunswick and Ontario specify that this may include domestic violence in the workplace.
Establishing a Workplace Harassment and Violence Program
All Canadian jurisdictions with a comprehensive workplace harassment and violence regime require employers to start by conducting an assessment of the workplace. Most legislation limits the assessment to the risk of violence, but Alberta and the federal government also require employers to assess harassment risk factors. Assessments of workplace violence may take into factors such as:
- past violence in the workplace;
- violence in similar workplaces;
- location and circumstances in which the work takes place.
Reassessments may be required periodically or where workplace circumstances change.
Workplace Harassment and Violence Policies
Most jurisdictions in Canada require employers to develop separate harassment and violence policies and procedures. Workplace harassment and violence programs must be developed in consultation with the health and safety committee or representative, as applicable. The specific requirements vary from one province to the next, but generally they include:
- employer statements committing to preventing and protecting employees from harassment/violence;
- a process for employers and workers to follow when addressing harassment/violence, including complaint and investigation procedures.
Note: Manitoba only requires employers who have identified a risk of violence as a part of their assessment or specified industries to develop workplace violence policies. Saskatchewan limits workplace violence requirements to specified industries, but Bill 91 will expand these requirements to all employers.
Employers must provide training on workplace harassment and violence policies and procedures. This may include training on the employer’s policies and programs, and how to recognize the potential for violence.
Duty to Warn
In addition to training requirements, many provinces include a duty to warn employees about potential threats of violence. This may include a duty to provide information regarding the risk of violence from persons who have a history of violent behaviour and that workers are likely to encounter at work.
Investigations of Workplace Harassment and Violence
Generally, when there is a complaint of workplace harassment or violence, employers have a duty to conduct an investigation. (Some health and safety legislation limits investigation requirements to harassment complaints, but that may be because incidents of violence are more likely to involve a police investigation.) Investigation requirements tend to vary from one Canadian jurisdiction to the next. For example:
- The Canada Labour Code (which applies to federally regulated workplaces) sets out a detailed investigation process, including negotiation, conciliation, investigation and reporting. (See our earlier post for further information.)
- Some provinces (e.g., Alberta) require the investigator to prepare a written report.
- Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador and PEI permit inspectors to order an impartial third party to investigate a complaint of workplace harassment.
Employees working alone may be at increased risk of workplace violence. Thus, many provinces include special requirements for workplaces with such employees. This may include doing a separate assessment to identify possible risks for employees working alone, and implementing special procedures to minimize these risks (e.g., communication systems, regular check-ins, specialized training).
How Compliance Works Helps HR Professionals
Workplace harassment and violence requirements are detailed and may vary considerably from one jurisdiction to the next. Compliance Works makes it quick and easy for HR professionals to understand the requirements that apply to their workplace.
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