Back in March 2015, the provincial government introduced “It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment”. One of the many commitments contained in the action plan was the introduction of legislation to strengthen Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).
As a result, Bill 132, Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (Supporting Survivors and Challenging Sexual Violence and Harassment), received its first reading in October of 2015 and is currently being considered by the Standing Committee on Social Policy.
The Bill amends a number of Acts with respect to sexual violence. Specific to the OHSA, the Bill’s objective is to strengthen the provisions regarding workplace harassment.
The amendments would provide a definition of sexual harassment (which is not currently contained in the OHSA), and clarify that sexual harassment is workplace harassment.
Interestingly, the Bill states that, “a reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the workplace is not workplace harassment.” As such, the Bill attempts to codify an employer’s right to manage the workplace by distinguishing reasonable management and direction of workers from harassment.
Bill 132 would also impose on employers an explicit requirement to create a program with respect to workplace harassment, including measures to protect workers, procedures for workers to confidentially report incidents, and procedures for such complaints to be investigated. The Bill goes one step further and places a positive obligation on employers, not just to have such procedures in place, but to actually investigate all incidents and complaints of workplace harassment in order to protect workers.
Bird Richard will keep you updated on Bill 132 and, should it come into effect, its interpretation by Ontario courts and tribunals. In the meantime, employers should be prepared to review their workplace policies, programs and employee training regarding workplace harassment in order to ensure they reflect these new definitions and obligations.