8 steps to help you implement new workplace harassment requirements

Sep 08, 2016

workplace harassmentWorkplace harassment can have debilitating consequences for victims, their co-workers, and the business. "If there's even an inkling of this behaviour in the workplace, the situation needs to be addressed immediately," says Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) consultant Charmaine Mitchell. "If workers don't feel safe, it can have widespread repercussions on employee well-being and organizational productivity."

That's why, as of September 8, 2016, the Ministry of Labour (MOL) has assigned employers new responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). These new responsibilities, an extension of existing requirements around workplace violence and harassment, ensure

  • workers have clear, confidential and optional steps for reporting harassment,
  • workers are able to report the harassment to someone who will address the complaint objectively,
  • an investigation and appropriate action will take place based on the facts of the situation.

To help workplaces understand the requirements, the MOL has published a code of practice, including a sample harassment policy and program.

To help you implement a policy and program, Mitchell offers the following eight steps. "Putting an effective policy and program in place is well worth your time," she says. "It just makes good business sense."

  1. Review the new requirements and compare them to the violence and harassment policy and program that you should already have in place. If you find gaps, use the code of practice as a guide.
  2. Consult with your joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative. It's more than a legal requirement: it's an opportunity to generate practical ideas on what needs to change and how.
  3. Involve senior management. Get their buy-in on next steps and then invite them to employee training and awareness sessions. "Having senior management introduce the topic with a clear statement that inappropriate behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated sends a message people can't ignore," says Mitchell.
  4. Train supervisors. "In their role as enforcers of workplace policies, this may be a new competency for some supervisors - understanding the investigation process, and how to protect the rights of the complainant and the alleged harasser."
  5. Train whomever may be conducting a harassment investigation on how to conduct it in an unbiased, impartial way. "It needs to be someone who can be impartial, who can just gather the relevant information about the incident and maintain confidentiality. It requires someone who will not disclose, unless it's necessary to do so, and not override anyone's right to privacy."
  6. Inform all employees about the policy and program. "It could be a toolbox talk, it could be a formal training session, but any training should invite questions and encourage discussion so that misunderstandings can be dispelled." Post the policy and program details in a conspicuous location where workers are sure to see it.
  7. Set up a process to document investigations that ensures privacy for the complainant and the alleged harasser.
  8. Schedule a program review at least annually, and certainly after an investigation has been completed, so that you can identify opportunities for continued improvement.

How we can help

"WSPS consultants are on hand to guide and support workplaces through the process - explaining the finer points of the changes, helping you draft a personalized policy and program for your workplace, delivering training and awareness sessions, whatever you require. We are here to assist," says Mitchell.

WSPS also offers extensive resources on developing violence and harassment programs and conducting investigations, including e-courses, classroom training, and complementary downloads.