Ontario’s new sexual violence and harassment legislation, Bill 132, An Act to amend various statutes with respect to sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence and related matters, received Royal Assent on March 8, 2016.
Bill 132 amends various existing statutes with respect to sexual violence, sexual harassment and domestic violence. For employers, Bill 132 presents important workplace-related changes, by amending the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to require employers to implement specific workplace harassment policies and programs and ensure that incidents and complaints of workplace harassment are appropriately investigated.
First, Bill 132 expands the OHSA’s definition of “workplace harassment” to include “workplace sexual harassment”, defined as:
- Engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a 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.
Bill 132, however, also clarifies that a reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of its workplace is not workplace harassment.
The bill, as passed, requires an employer, in consultation with a joint health and safety committee or a health and safety representative (if any), to develop, maintain, and review at least annually, a written program that implements the employer’s workplace harassment policy. Further, employers must provide workers with appropriate information and instruction on the contents of their workplace harassment policies and program. An employer’s written program must set out, among other requirements:
- measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment to a person other than the employer or supervisor, if the employer or supervisor is the alleged harasser
- how incidents or complaints of workplace harassment will be investigated and dealt with
- how information obtained about an incident or complaint of workplace harassment, including identifying information about any individuals involved, will not be disclosed unless the disclosure is necessary for investigating, taking corrective action, or by law
- how a worker who has allegedly experienced workplace harassment and the alleged harasser (if he or she is a worker of the employer) will be informed of the results of the investigation and of corrective action that has been, or will be, taken.
Further, employers must conduct appropriate investigations in response to incidents or complaints of workplace harassment. Following an investigation an employer must inform both the worker who has allegedly experienced harassment and the alleged harasser (if he or she is a worker of the employer) of the results and of any corrective action that has been, or will be, taken.
Notably, an inspector now has the power to order an employer to conduct an investigation by an impartial third party, and obtain a written report by that party, all at the employer’s expense. Bill 132, however, does not specify the circumstances in which an inspector can, or will, order an employer to conduct such an investigation.
The above- noted OHSA amendments come into force on Sept. 8, 2016. In order to ensure compliance with the legislation, employers must take steps beforehand to update and implement policies and programs related to workplace harassment.
Sabrina Serino practices employment and labour law with Dentons in Toronto. She can be reached at (416) 863-4385 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Sabrina's discussion of this case also appears in the Dentons blog www.occupationalhealthandsafetylaw.com.