In 2020, the federal government released new regulations pertaining to issues of workplace violence and harassment which took effect on January 1, 2021. These new regulations outline requirements for how federal employers have to manage and address workplace claims of harassment and violence.

What Do These New Requirements Include?

The new regulations mandate that federal employers:

  • Develop a workplace harassment and violence prevention policy. The employer must develop this policy with the workplace committee, the policy committee or a health and safety committee. The type of committee the new policy has to be developed with depends on the size of the organization (see: Size of the Organization Matters When It Comes to Developing the Policy);
  • Develop an understanding of the definition of workplace harassment and violence; and
  • Assess the risks of workplace harassment and violence.

Organization Size Matters When it Comes To Policy Development

Federal employers must take into account the size of their organization when determining with which committee they must develop the policy. The requirements are that:

  • If the organization employs up to 19 employees, then the employer has to develop the new policy with the health and safety representative;
  • If the organization employs between 20 to 299 employees, then the employer has to develop the new policy with the workplace committee;
  • If the organization employs 300 employees or more, then the employer has to develop the new policy with the policy committee

What Should the Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention Policy Include?

There are several issues a workplace harassment and violence prevention policy should address. The policy should contain:

  • A description of the roles of the various workplace parties pertaining to harassment and violence in the workplace;
  • A list of training that will be provided to the employees about workplace harassment and violence;
  • A description of the risk factors pertaining to workplace harassment and violence;
  • The employer’s commitment to protect employees and prevent workplace harassment and violence;
  • A description of the support measures available to employees;
  • The resolution process employees should follow if they witness or experience workplace harassment or violence;
  • A description of any recourse that may be available to persons involved in an occurrence;
  • The name of the person designated to receive complaints related to the employer’s non-compliance with the Code or Regulations;
  • The reason for which a review and update of the workplace assessment must be conducted;
  • A description of how the employer will protect the privacy of the persons involved in:
    • an occurrence
    • the resolution process for an occurrence; and
  • A description of the emergency procedures that must be implemented if:
    • an incident poses an immediate danger to the health and safety of an employee; and
    • there is a threat of such an occurrence.

The Definition of Workplace Harassment and Violence

The definition of harassment and violence for the purposes of the new regulations is included in Part II of the Canada Labour Code.

However, harassment and violence really include any and all descriptions of what those terms could include. For instance, harassment and violence can constitute persistent criticism, belittling, undermining, ridiculing, or demeaning an individual. It can also include starting and spreading malevolent gossip or rumours about a person or a group of people. On a supervisory or management level, the definition of harassment and violence can include the abuse of one’s workplace authority by interfering with a subordinate’s job or performance, or using one’s authority to publicly discipline or ridicule an employee or a group of employees.

Assessing the Risk of Workplace Harassment and Violence

A federal employer will be required to conduct risk assessments with members of one of the above-mentioned committees. Which committee the employer must consult will depend, once again, on the size of the workplace.

The government has also provided a risk assessment tool, to help employers determine whether their workplace is more or less at risk of harassment and violence. The form provides questions such as;

  • Does the employer make sure, by policy and in practice, that there is no disciplinary or punitive action against an employee for filing a notice of an occurrence of harassment and violence?
  • Are employers and designated recipients trained on responding to occurrences of harassment and violence?
  • Does the employer make sure, by policy and/or practice, that notices of occurrences of harassment and violence can be submitted anonymously?

Federal employers need to be be aware of these new rules. Failing to adhere to these new regulations could be costly for an employer.

For advice on these and other employment or labour law matters, contact the offices of Toronto employment lawyers Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP. We regularly advise workplace parties on a wide range of legal workplace issues. Contact us online or by phone at 416-364-9599 to schedule a consultation.