New harassment obligations for Ontario employers

Changes are due in September 2016 and HR professionals will have to be prepared, warns one employment lawyer.

New harassment obligations for Ontario employers
All employers should be aware of their legal obligations in regards to sexual violence and harassment but Ontario-based HR professionals may have to make some adjustments as legislative change is on the horizon.

In September, Bill 132 – long-windedly known as the “Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (Supporting Survivors and Challenging Sexual Violence and Harassment), 2015” – will come into force, affecting a number of corresponding laws.

“The Bill amends various statutes with respect to sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence and other matters,” clarifies leading employment lawyer Monty Verlint.

“It amends various provisions of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act and creates new obligations for employers surrounding the prevention, training, investigation and resolution of workplace harassment, particularly workplace sexual harassment,” he reveals.

According to Verlint, there are four key things all Ontario employers should consider in preparation for the upcoming changes.
  1. Update current written policies and programs relating to workplace harassment to now include workplace sexual harassment.
  2. Ensure the written policy contains adequate investigation, reporting, communication and resolution of complaints and incidents.
  3. Ensure information in the course of an investigation is properly handled and disclosed in order to recognize the privacy of complainants.
  4. Ensure employees are properly trained on the Bill's new requirements for both managers and employees. 
Despite added complexity, the bill does offer some added protection to employers, staying that any “reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the workplace” will not constitute harassment.

“This is an important distinction that recognizes that an employer's reasonable management of workers based on their workplace performance and conduct should not be considered harassment of an employee,” explains Verlint.

HR professionals can read Verlint’s original article here, for a more detailed analysis of what will be required of employers.

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