New legislation on workplace sexual harassment
As of September 8, 2016, employers must comply with Bill 132, the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act. Bill 132 adds “workplace sexual harassment” to the definition of “workplace harassment” under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) and establishes more onerous requirements on employers. As a result, Bill 132 makes workplace sexual harassment more than an issue of discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code, but also a health and safety consideration under OHSA.
Prior to Bill 132, employers were required to maintain policies and programs on workplace violence and harassment. Policies had to be in writing for workplaces of six or more employees; programs did not have to be in writing. Under Bill 132, employers must now have a written program on workplace harassment. Unlike before, the program must be prepared in consultation with the committee or a health and safety representative, if any (i.e. in workplaces of six or more employees).
The requirements of workplace harassment programs, which are to be reviewed at least annually, are also more arduous under Bill 132. Previously, workplace harassment programs only had to detail reporting and investigation procedures. While those provisions remain, programs must also include measures for:
- reporting incidents to persons other than the employer or supervisor, if they are the alleged harasser;
- ensuring the confidentiality of identifying information about involved individuals; and
- how the worker who allegedly experienced the harassment and the alleged harasser are to be informed of the investigation and any corrective action that took place.
Of note, Bill 132 requires that investigations be “appropriate in the circumstances”. Moreover, inspectors are empowered to order an employer to conduct an investigation by an impartial person, at the employer’s expense. These changes suggest the potential for new oversight by the Ministry of Labour.
Millard & Company has extensive experience preparing workplace health and safety policies and programs. We would be happy to help you meet your obligations under Bill 132 before the September 8, 2016 deadline.
By Mika Imai; photo by Scazon, used under creative commons commercial license.