What you need to know about Ontario's sexual violence and harassment action plan

Apr 08, 2015

Stop sexual harassmentUnder Ontario's proposed new plan, employers will face requirements for preventing sexual harassment. Part of a broader social effort to protect people from sexual violence and harassment, these requirements will come with tools to help workplaces implement changes. Here's what you need to know.

1. Why the action plan is necessary

Over one third of Canadian women report having had at least one experience of sexual assault since the age of 161. One in 10 adult men will also be the victim of a sexual assault.2 Many of these incidents occur on the job.

"These statistics remind us that we still have a lot of work to do in creating psychologically healthy and safe workplaces," says Andrew Harkness, WSPS' strategy advisor, organizational health initiatives. "Sexual harassment breaks a trust among co-workers and between workers and the employer if the employer doesn’t respond effectively."

"If the harassed workers stay," continues Harkness, "they may become stigmatized. Organizational productivity may drop, and the situation could even escalate to violence. If the harassed workers quit, the victims are punished rather than the aggressor, and the employer may know only that good workers have left."

2. What's changing

Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to protect workers from "workplace violence" and "workplace harassment," but not sexual harassment. The action plan will amend the act to include:

  • a definition of sexual harassment,
  • clear requirements for employers to investigate and address sexual harassment complaints, and make every reasonable effort to protect workers from sexual harassment.

To make implementation as easy as possible, the action plan will provide new tools, such as:

  • a code of practice so that employers know how to comply with the law,
  • educational materials to help employers create a harassment-free environment.

3. Possible next steps

"A workplace that protects people's physical and mental safety is not a luxury," says Harkness. "It's a requirement for businesses seeking a competitive advantage." Here are six ways to treat the action plan as an opportunity:

  • learn more about the action plan
  • review your existing violence and harassment policies and procedures to determine whether you’re in compliance with existing requirements; if not, create a compliance plan
  • open up conversations with employees by taking the Respect Group's "Respect in the Workplace" program, which will help everyone set a baseline of open communication about violence and harassment of all kinds
  • conduct a survey to determine whether any sexual harassment issues are sitting below the surface
  • look for existing resources among community agencies that you can share now with employees
  • check out CSA Z1003/BNQ 9700-803- Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. Downloads are available at no cost.

4. How we can help

WSPS has everything you need to protect workers from violence and harassment and start preparing for the new sexual harassment requirements:

  • Check out our violence and harassment resource page, where you’ll find
  • e-courses on developing a violence and harassment program, conducting a hazard assessment, and developing a prevention program
  • a self-paced Certification Part Two course on violence hazards
  • downloads
    • guideline and toolbox for developing violence and harassment policies and programs
    • employee risk assessment questionnaire
  • Speak with a WSPS consultant. They're standing by to help you assess your current policy and program, identify gaps, conduct hazards assessments, deliver training, or just answer your questions.
  • Attend "It's Never OK: Ontario's Action Plan to End Sexual Violence and Harassment" at Partners in Prevention 2015 Health & Safety Conference & Trade Show, April 28-29 in Mississauga. While you're there, visit the 400+ exhibits at the trade show.

1 Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends 2006, Statistics Canada, p. 24;

2 Kong, R. et al., Sexual Offences in Canada, Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2003