There is a lot of activity, spilled ink and worry about complying with Bill 168 out there. For my own spilled ink, see my previous posts on the issue:
- Bill 168 Assessments: Deadline is Just Around the Corner
- Bill 168: Ontario Workplace Violence & Harassment (summary of the Bill)
Also see the Ministry of Labour/OHSCO’s resources at:
The week alone I revised a couple of policies on workplace violence and harassment, spoke to 100 employers at an industry association meeting about how to comply by June 15 and conducted an assessment of workplace violence with a client.
Yes, there is a lot to do, but, given that it is a Friday morning before a long weekend and I’m feeling particularly cheerful, I wanted to point out that it is not all doom & gloom. A pattern I’m seeing emerging is the number of opportunities this new legislation is creating for employers:
- Conversations about improving workplace health and safety: Obviously everyone benefits from a safer workplace. Addressing risks of both violence and harassment may raise issues that are bubbling under the surface, clear up long-standing issues, or at least lessen future incidents. For employers, fewer incidents of workplace violence and harassment means fewer resources, time and money spent on these issues, and a decreased risk of liability, all of which are good for the bottom line of the company.
- Raise awareness: The training and the revised and/or newly introduced policies on workplace violence and harassment are opportunities to educate your employees about the issues. If done well, it can both clarify what is not harassment (e.g. not every unkind word amounts to harassment) and identify what is workplace violence (e.g. certain "horseplay" or practical jokes that cross the line)
- Educate on domestic violence: This issue raises the most questions and concerns, which means people are actively turning their mind to it. While I don’t believe employers should become the watchdog of their employees’ private life – and very few are qualified to actively counsel on this issue – as of June 15, there will be an express legal duty to not turn a blind eye to the issue when it exposes any employees to the risk of physical injury in the workplace. This is an opportunity to gather resources and become aware of the telephone numbers, websites and booklets you could provide to an employee you suspect is suffering from domestic issue. As a start:
- Assaulted Women’s 24-Hour Helpline: 1-866-863-0511
- Domestic Violence Doesn’t Stop When you Go to Work: How to get Help or Support a Colleague who may Need Help
- Shelternet at 416-642-5463
- The Ministry of Labour -OHSCO Guide and Toolbox mentioned above
- Assess the physical attributes of the workplace: In the course of the mandatory assessment, employers have the opportunity to revisit the basic physical attributes of their workplace: lighting, parking lot obstacles that may increase risks, battery life on panic buttons, general access to the building by strangers, family members and service providers, whether isolated areas should have a phone installed, etc.
- Engage your employees: Employers need employee "buy-in" to make the entire exercise successful. Employers need the information from employees if any trouble is brewing on the floor, and employees need to understand that it is equally their responsibility to relay information about risks of violence and harassment in the workplace. Safety issues often impact women more than men, so this is also an opportunity to strengthen the voice of women in your workplace and provide them with a vehicle to raise concerns about workplace safety.
- Engage your union reps: Many union reps will welcome the opportunity to work with management on identifying and dealing with workplace violence and harassment. Often your union rep is the front-line gatekeeper that has to decide whether a complaint from a union member actually falls within "harassment" or "violence". If they are wrong and choose not to file a grievance, they may face a Duty to Fairly Represent complaint from their members. The conversations, training, assessment and updating of policies all assist the union and management to clarify what various expectations are and what are the general parametres of the legislation. While we are unlikely to see any overall decrease in grievances on the issue, hopefully these conversations can help eliminate some of the more frivolous complaints not contemplated by the legislation or the parties.
- Engage high risk individual employees: Several employers have told me that they will use the training as an opportunity to address specific issues already at play in their workplace. For example, if you have two employees engaging in excessive flirting, and one of those employees has a spouse with a particular temper, after the training you can pull them each aside separately and point out how they fall squarely within the concerns raised by the domestic violence provisions of the Bill, and how your employer duties require you to pro-actively address the situation. Similarly, during the training, you can identify certain types of behaviour that may violate the new provisions and put your employees on notice that the workplace will be actively dealing with these issues (e.g. "horseplay", excessive practical jokes or teasing, etc).
If you have experienced other positive results from working on your Bill 168 compliance plan, I’d love to hear from you.