Apr 8, 2010
The Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) recently released guidelines with respect to the
recent amendments to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act
(OHSA) concerning workplace violence and harassment.
The guidelines provide further detail on what must be included in the
workplace violence and harassment policies that will be required under the
amended OHSA, as well as sample policies. The guidelines state that the
- show an employer’s commitment to protecting workers from workplace
violence and harassment;
- address violence and harassment from all possible sources (e.g.,
customers, clients, employers, supervisors, workers, strangers and domestic/intimate
- outline the roles and responsibilities of the workplace parties in
supporting the policy and program; and
- be dated and signed by the highest level of management at the workplace.
Employers are required to implement these workplace violence and
harassment policies regardless of size of the workplace or number of workers.
Some other points in the guidelines worth noting include:
- An assessment of the potential for workplace violence needs to be done
for each worksite. For example, a company which operates a chain of
retail stores could perform a standard assessment, but would also have to
perform a location-specific assessment at each location so that the violence
program addressed risks and conditions specific to each workplace.
- A person’s right to privacy and a worker’s right to be informed of
workplace violence risks should be balanced. (If in doubt, the
guidelines suggest that employers seek legal advice).
- Employers do not have to conduct criminal background checks on people in
- Where there are potential risks of domestic violence spilling over into
the workplace, it may be necessary to create an individual safety plan for a
- An employer may still be required to take action to protect a worker who
is the potential target of domestic violence, regardless of the worker’s
- Where there is an act of violence or threat of violence,
the police should be contacted immediately.
- Workplace harassment does not include job assessments and evaluations,
disciplinary action, or differences of opinion or minor disagreements between
- Work cannot be refused on the grounds of workplace harassment.
- Workplace harassment is recognized as a potential trigger for workplace
- It is not the role of Ministry inspectors to mediate specific
allegations of workplace harassment – these should be handled by the
Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, grievance arbitration or civil litigation.
There are a number of issues, however, which the guidelines do not
address. For example:
- What is the exact scope/breadth of the “workplace” for purposes of the
policies the employer must write and the risk assessments they must carry out?
- The guidelines state that the test is whether the worker is being
directed and paid to be near there. Does this include client social functions
and other off site activities?
- Each employer must undertake a risk assessment. How scientific and
detailed must a risk assessment be, particularly for workplaces where the risk
of violence is likely low?
- In identifying and dealing with persons with a history of violent
behaviour, how would an employer know the specific triggers for violence in the
If you would like to learn more about these new workplace violence and
harassment requirements, we would be pleased to do a presentation for you
and/or assist you in undertaking a risk assessment, drafting appropriate
policies and procedures, and developing training programs. Please
contact a member of our Employment &Labour Department for further information.