In late October, the Ontario government introduced Bill 132, which is called the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act 2015. Bill 132 is intended to augment Bill 168, which came into force five years ago and required employers to draft, design and fully implement workplace violence and harassment policies and procedures under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).
Since Bill 168 became law, many critics have noted that it was a great start, but it did not go far enough to protect workers from workplace harassment. As more incidents have happened to prove that notion true, Ontario officials created what they called an “Action Plan,” which is what led to Bill 132. Here are some of the major changes:
- A clarification of the definition of “workplace harassment” in the OHSA to say that “reasonable” performance management and direction to workers will not be considered “workplace harassment,” which is good news for employers who have faced frivolous harassment complaints from workers who considered a poor performance appraisal to be harassment.
- Workplace harassment programs will be expanded and changes made to procedures currently in place so that workers don’t have to report incidents to someone who may be the alleged harasser and to make sure that information about the complaint is not disclosed unless such disclosure is necessary for investigative purposes or for the purpose of taking corrective action.
- New, more specific duties will be added to the OHSA to require an employer to conduct a thorough investigation into incidents and complaints and to make sure both the alleged victim and the alleged harasser be fully informed in writing of the results of the investigation and any corrective action taken.
- All workplace harassment programs will require an annual review, in order to ensure that the employer’s workplace harassment policy is being implemented adequately.
- It will also grant inspectors from the Ministry of Labour more power to investigate a workplace harassment incident. They will also have the discretion to appoint someone they believe is qualified as an “impartial person” to conduct an investigation and issue a written report. The inspector will also have the discretion to order the employer to pay the costs incurred by bringing in that “impartial person.”
Bill 132 will bring changes, so employers should be ready if and when it does. Employers will have to amend their policies and procedures, so as to specifically include “workplace sexual harassment” and they will have to strengthen those harassment policies and procedures and be fully prepared to take every complaint seriously and investigate thoroughly. The target date for putting Bill 132 into force is July 1, 2016, which may seem far away, but it really isn’t. It might be good to prepare now.