Becoming complaint with the new workplace violence and harassment law (Bill 168) has recently moved to the centre of many organizational radars. The deadline to comply is June 15, 2010, so there are about 5 weeks left to take the necessary steps to meet the requirements of the legislation.
Lots to Do…
Bill 168 passed last December and amends the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. Employers must have completed a number of steps by June 15, including:
- update or create policies on workplace violence and harassment;
- develop a program to implement the policies;
- conduct an assessment of workplace violence;
- communicate to and train staff about the the policies and programs;
- determine protocol around domestic violence that exposes workers to violence in the workplace; and
- determine protocol regarding the disclosure of information about a person with a history of violent behaviour that may expose a worker to violence.
Yes, there is a lot to do. Many organizations already have decent policies and programs on workplace violence and harassment and will simply have to tweak existing documents to comply. Others need to start from scratch.
Virtually everyone, however, will be starting from scratch when it comes to the mandatory assessment of workplace violence. The amendment requires employers to "assess the risks of workplace violence that may arise from the nature of the workplace, the type of work, or the conditions of work." The assessment must take into account circumstances that are both common to similar workplaces and specific to your workplace.
And that’s it – there is no other legislative guidance that outlines what the assessment should look like, how comprehensive it should be, in what format it should be, etc.
I have given a number of training sessions to clients on how to conduct workplace assessments. One of the messages I try to get across is that this is not rocket science. It’s a matter of developing a comprehensive and logical checklist of the risks of violence in your workplace.
While it may be impossible to eliminate all risks of workplace violence and harassment, this exercise is about identifying risks so that steps can be taken to minimize those risks.
While the legislation only requires the assessment of workplace violence, I believe it is prudent – and not necessarily extra work – to include the assessment of workplace harassment in the exercise. Quite often, harassment is a preliminary step to violence and the two concepts cannot always be separated.
In general, employers, along with significant employee participation, will want to review the physical characteristics of your workplace to determine levels of risk, and to review past injury reports, security incident reports, human rights complaints and internal grievances to identify any patterns of behaviour or corners of the organization that may be at a higher risk.
Very recently, the Ontario Ministry of Labour and the Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario released some excellent resources to assist workplaces with becoming compliant:
- What Employers Need to Know explains the various parts of the amendments, provides detailed resources about domestic violence, outlines how to develop the required policies and programs, and how to conduct the assessment.
- A Toolbox includes sample policies, an optional employee survey, and a template assessment worksheet to build on and cater to your workplace.
While there are many good consultants and organizations that can assist with conducting the assessment, for many workplaces, the Ministry of Labour’s resources will provide an excellent and cost-effective way to conduct the assessment in-house. Regardless of the route chosen, the HR team will need to dig through the existing (and sometimes very out of date) policies and documents that will inform the assessment, so it is impossible to completely outsource the project.
Of all of the tasks required by the new amendments, the assessment will likely be the most time-consuming and labour intensive exercise. Once you have your template up and running, however, future assessments will likely be much less of a burden.
Furthermore, the assessments should provide a great opportunity for organizations to cross-educate management and employees about where are the potential risks of workplace violence and harassment, and to inform each other about concerns that should be acted on before they escalate into serious situations.