September 19, 2016
Bill 132, An Act to amend various statutes with respect to sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence and related matters, received royal assent on March 8, 2016. The legislation is a result of commitments made in “It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment” released by the Ontario government in March 2015. The Bill amends six government statutes, with the overall goal of improving support for survivors in the justice system as well as protecting students and workers from the threat of sexual violence and harassment.
One of the government statutes amended by the Bill is the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). The Bill modifies definitions and expands obligations related to sexual violence and harassment in the workplace. These Amendments to OHSA came into force on September 8, 2016.
Summary of the Amendments to OHSA:
Bill 132 amends OHSA to add a definition of workplace sexual harassment which means:
a) engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expressed, where the course of comment or conduct is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome, or
b) making a sexual solicitation or advance where the person making the solicitation or advance is in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the worker and the person knows or ought reasonably to know that the solicitation or advance is unwelcome.
Further, the Bill expands the general definition of workplace harassment to include workplace sexual harassment.
2. Workplace Harassment Policy & Program
Sections 32.0.6 to 32.0.8 of OHSA have been amended to impose additional duties on employers to protect employees from harassment. Employers must now develop and maintain a written program to implement a workplace harassment policy. At a minimum the program must be reviewed annually.
The mandatory workplace harassment program must set out:
- measures and procedures for reporting workplace harassment incidents,
- how incidents will be investigated and dealt with,
- how information obtained regarding an incident will be protected, including procedures for disclosure, and
- how the worker will be informed of the results of the investigation and of any corrective action
An employer must also provide workers with information regarding the contents of the policy and program. The amendment also obligates an employer to provide appropriate instruction to workers regarding the policy and program.
3. Impartial Investigations
Inspectors of the Ministry of Labour will have the ability to order an employer to investigate incidents of workplace harassment by hiring an impartial investigator at the employer’s own cost. An employer must also cover the cost of obtaining a written report by the impartial investigator. The qualifications for the impartial investigator are set by Inspector of the Ministry of Labour.