Arenal in Costa Rica is an active volcano that is unstable and dangerous. In case it suddenly erupts, visitors are no longer allowed to climb it. For employers, an unstable and dangerous worker can become a nightmare. Like a volcano, a disgruntled or fired worker who feels they have nothing to lose can erupt in violence. A Plan, that includes a policy and program, prepared before the worker blows, can prevent a tragedy that is becoming all too common.
Cases of workplace harassment and violence are on the rise in Canada. In the 10 years between 1996 and 2005 the cases of workplace harassment and violence rose by 40%. Later statistics are very difficult to locate without a central body to collect the data, but according to an International Labour Organization study, Canada has one of the highest rates of assaults and sexual harassment in the workplace in the world.
As a former Industrial Inspector with Health Care Lead at the Ministry of Labour (MOL), it did not surprise me that in 2014, 686 Lost-time violence related claims were accepted by WSIB for Health Care Workers – more than construction, manufacturing and mining combined.
As far as I could tell while performing administrative reviews in a workplace, the section on workplace harassment and violence in the ACT is scarcely understood, or followed by employers. So let’s make it very clear. Every workplace must prepare a workplace harassment and violence policy and program.
The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (the ACT) sets out roles and responsibilities with respect to harassment and violence in the Workplace. Harassment is often a precursor to violence, so every employer should pay strict attention to any instances of harassment that they become aware of.
Under the ACT employers are required to develop a work place harassment policy and program. The policy must be written, posted and reviewed annually, just like the general health and safety policy discussed in my June 13th blog.
Once again, workplaces with one to five workers do not need to put the policy or program in written form. But, and this is important, they must have one; if an Inspector feels it necessary, they can ask any worker to explain their employer’s harassment policy and procedures.
In order to implement the policy, a program must be developed by the employer. The program must include sexual harassment. And because there is no point to having policies and programs if workers are not informed of them, the employer must provide information and instruction to their workers, in other words, training.
During my inspections I found that many employers neglect to include reporting procedures. Employers must develop written measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment. Who they report it to should be included in the employer’s program.
The employer has a duty under the ACT to review the policy and program as often as needed, but at least annually. The employer must also investigate complaints of harassment. How the investigation is dealt with is workplace specific and must be included in the program.
The employer’s program must set out who investigates if the worker claims the harasser is the employer. Sometimes an outside person would be called out to investigate. Sometimes an internal person can do the job, but only if that person can remain objective, which may not be the case if the employer has the power to fire the person.
A MOL inspector has the authority to order an employer to hire an impartial person to investigate complaints or incidents of workplace harassment. This would apply if the inspector feels that the circumstances warrant it.
The program must also set out how confidentiality would be maintained during the investigation. Workers that have filed a complaint with their employer have the right to do so in confidence. Finally the results of the investigation must be provided in writing to the complainant and the harasser, if the harasser is also employed at the workplace.