On September 8, 2016, Bill 132 An Act to amend various statutes with respect to sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence and related matters, came into force in Ontario. This act provides an amendment to the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to an increased scope of requirements for employers and workplaces handling sexual harassment complaints.
As is always the case when a legislative change comes into force, the HR professional can and should access numerous online resources that provide guidance for interpretation and implementation of new requirements.
There is no doubt that this legislative change will be received with mixed reactions. On one hand, most employers will be able to incorporate and shape their existing workplace policies on sexual violence and sexual harassment to ensure compliance with the new requirements.
On the other hand, there will be resistance from employers who do not perceive a justification to increase their employment-related legal obligations, no matter how important this legislative change may be. As such, this amendment will provide many opportunities for further exploration and discussion as it is tested through implementation.
An initial point of interest is the new requirement for employers to consult with the Joint Health and Safety Committee on the development and maintenance of a written harassment policy and supporting procedures. This is a significant change. It appears to be based on the spirit of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which makes health and safety a joint responsibility of both the employer and the worker.
In a truly collaborative environment, individuals should become more engaged and involved in ensuring the personal safety of their workplace colleagues, especially in relation to matters of sexual violence and sexual harassment. No matter how difficult such a joint process may be, it should create an increase in shared awareness, accountability and active involvement in making a positive organizational change.
- How can the Joint Health and Safety Committee in any organization increase shared accountability for workplace safety with regard to sexual harassment in the workplace?
- Why do you think Bill 132 came into force in Ontario?
- What do you think are the most important elements of Bill 132?
- As an HR practitioner, what can you do to promote a workplace that is free from sexual harassment and workplace violence?