On January 1, 2021, the federal government enacted legislation and implemented regulations to amend the Canada Labour Code (the Code).
These changes were made to promote equality among co-workers and to improve the health and safety of employees in the federal sector. Specifically, changes were made to expand the definition of workplace harassment and violence to be inclusive of all types of harassment and violence. This broader definition of harassment and violence would include sexual harassment, sexual violence, and domestic violence, which also imposes significant new obligations on employers to ensure the workplace is free from these sorts of toxic behaviours.
What is Workplace Harassment and Violence?
While it’s entirely normal and even expected for workers to take certain actions in the course of performing their duties, whether an employee or manager, it should also be expected that those actions be conducted respectfully and always in good faith. For example, an employer is in their right to provide constructive feedback on an employee’s performance or take disciplinary actions against employees when reasonable and necessary. However, aggressive or threatening behaviour, physical assault, coworkers spreading rumours and gossip, belittling of co-workers or unwanted touches or advances should be considered totally inappropriate conduct that should not be tolerated in any modern workplace.
Is My Company Impacted by These Changes?
The Code is a federal statute that regulates private and public industries within the federal sector, such as air transportation, banks, and federal government jobs. If your company does business in Ontario and is not part of any industry that is federally regulated, the Code does not apply to you. Your business would be governed by Ontario’s Employment Standards Act.
New Obligations Imposed on Employers Under the Code
As of January 1, 2021, employers subject to the Code are required to implement the following preventative measures in the workplace to ensure a safe, healthy, and inclusive workplace for employees:
- Employers must conduct a workplace assessment to identify potential factors that pose a risk of harassment and/or violence in the workplace.
- Employers are required to enact a harassment and violence prevention policy that includes prescribed elements set out in the regulation.
- Employers must develop emergency procedures where an occurrence or threat of violence poses an immediate danger to an employee.
- Employers are required to train all employees (including supervisors) on workplace harassment and violence.
- Employers must provide all employees with information on support measures available within their geographic region.
- Employers must follow timelines and requirements to resolve harassment or violent occurrences in the workplace.
- Employers must keep records of complaints and actions taken for at least ten years to support enforcement measures.
- Employers must deliver an annual report to the Minister.
Employers who don’t comply with the amendments to the Code and regulations could face penalties of up to $250,000. Monetary penalties for administrative violations, such as record keeping, will not be imposed until January 1, 2022, so that employers have time to adjust. If nothing else, new changes to legislation like the Canada Labour Code make it imperative for employers and business owners to stay informed about changes to the law that may impact your company. Although it would be great to assume you have a healthy, safe work environment for everyone, the penalties for being wrong can be punishing.
The best way to avoid the penalties?
Learn what qualifies as workplace harassment and violence, follow the new obligations set for employers under the changes, and implement preventative measures to keep your workplace a safe space for your employees to work, and your business to thrive.