6 steps to take before Bill 132 comes into force on September 8

Jun 07, 2016

Stop sexual harassment"Don't wait for September. Start preparing your workplace and your workforce now for Bill 132, Ontario's new sexual violence and harassment legislation, before it becomes enforceable," advises WSPS consultant Paul Hartford.

Bill 132 expands the definition of harassment in the Occupational Health and Safety Act to include sexual harassment. It also sets out new duties for employers.

These changes are designed to ensure workers have clear, confidential and optional avenues for reporting, and assurance for complainants that an investigation and appropriate action will take place. "In the past," explains Hartford, "the alleged harasser might have been disciplined behind closed doors. You've probably heard the expression, 'if you want justice to be done, justice has to be seen to be done.'" Now complainants will have the right to learn the outcome of an investigation.

Here's a snapshot of the changes: employers must

  • develop, maintain and review a written workplace harassment policy and program in consultation with the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative. The act does not specify what must be contained in the policy, but it's a good idea to add the Ministry of Labour's new definition of sexual harassment to the harassment policy and program. 1
  • set out in the program how the worker may report the abuse to another party if the abuser is the employer or supervisor. The changes do not specify who will investigate, only that the investigation be appropriate under the circumstances. Bill 132 gives ministry inspectors the power to order a third party investigation in this situation.
  • provide information and instruction about the policy and program to workers
  • investigate harassment complaints appropriately
  • determine how confidentiality will be maintained during investigations
  • ensure the complainant and the alleged harasser are informed about the results of the investigation, and any corrective action, in writing
  • review the program at least once a year

6 steps to compliance

If a violence and harassment policy already exists, Hartford suggests you piggyback on what has already been done. Start with a checklist of things you need to do to be ready, and be sure to communicate what's happening to employees. "It's a perfect subject for your next safety talk," says Hartford. "It can be as simple as telling workers what the law has enacted, that the company is reviewing its policy with the joint health and safety committee, and more communication will follow in the coming weeks."

Hartford offers the following suggestions on how employers can adapt their existing harassment policy and program to meet the new requirements.

  1. Determine who is responsible for doing the updating in consultation with the committee - the health and safety coordinator, HR?
  2. Sit with your JHSC, look at what you currently have, and work backwards to fill gaps. Step one may be to update your definition of harassment to include sexual harassment.
  3. Review your program and make sure complaints can be addressed in the applicable manner.
  4. Identify who will carry out sexual harassment investigations and how they will be trained. Is it the same people who investigate other forms of harassment and workplace violence?
  5. Determine what reporting provisions you will put in place, and how you will guarantee confidentiality.
  6. Review your company's anti-discrimination policy to confirm that it addresses sexual harassment.

"Look at this as an opportunity to reinstruct and reengage your employees and your management team," says Hartford. "It's a reminder of expectations of workplace conduct and comments. It's a reminder that there is recourse for those being bullied or harassed."

How WSPS can help

"If you're not sure you have the tools and resources to revise (or develop) your harassment policy and prevention policies on your own, bring us in," says Hartford. "WSPS consultants can create your program for you or we can show you how to create or update your own program."

Also, watch for these upcoming offerings:

  • enhanced joint health and safety committee certification training. Find out more about WSPS’ Part One and Part Two certification training
  • on-site awareness sessions on violence and harassment - presentations of up to 2 hours in length delivered at your workplace by WSPS consultants. They are designed to help meet your legal duty to provide information about workplace hazards to employees. Check out our current list of session topics.

1. "Workplace sexual harassment would include harassment of a worker because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression or an unwelcome sexual solicitation or advance by a person who is in the position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement."