It's a matter of days before Bill 168 comes into force in Ontario, providing new protections to employees regarding workplace violence and harassment. Is your business ready?
The legislation takes effect on June 15, 2010. It's important to understand that all employers are required to meet these legal requirements, no matter how large or small the company is.
While large corporations with significant budgets and human resources departments have extensive resources to put these legal requirements into place, navigating through the legal responsibilities may be significantly more difficult for smaller businesses.
Employers who leave these tasks to the last minute may find themselves in non-compliance with the law once the amendments come into force. The Occupational Health and Safety Act indicates that corporations that are in non-compliance will face penalties, including significant fines. Programs are already in place to audit workplaces in Ontario to determine compliance.
To help smaller businesses make the transition, here are five things all businesses need to do before June 15:
1. Conduct a risk assessment
The purpose of this assessment is to determine if any parts of the employer's operation are vulnerable to acts of violence. This assessment is later used to update or develop policies to control the identified risks.
Employers must ensure that they do a complete evaluation of their operations to ensure that the vulnerabilities to violence are identified and addressed. Unfortunately, the bill does not explain how such an assessment is to be done.
An assessment doesn't have to be a complex undertaking, though. It can generally be accomplished by creating a questionnaire and meeting with employees to help identify areas of concern in the workplace.
2. Make necessary changes to the workplace
Using the information gathered during the risk assessment, employers then need to make the necessary changes to reduce the vulnerability to violence in the workplace.
For example, in the retail, bar and restaurant industries an employee may be susceptible to client outbursts. If an employer identifies this as a risk for violence in the workplace, measures should be taken to reduce this risk by installing easily accessible emergency security buttons.
The installation of these security buttons will allow employees to call security and/or the police when they see suspicious, escalating or illegal behaviour. It is easy to see how the ability to contact emergency services can significantly reduce the risk of employees being subject to violence.
However, just because your workplace does not have high risk for this type of behaviour doesn't mean you can avoid making changes. Even offices have risks and the task for employers is to identify them and to make changes where applicable.
3. Develop and review policies with respect to workplace violence and harassment
Employers must ensure that policies are in place with respect to workplace violence and harassment. For employers with five employees or more, the bill says this policy must be in writing and posted in the workplace.
Using the example given above, if there is a susceptibility to client outbursts, it may be necessary for employers to have a policy in place to address this issue. The policies can give employees a guide of the proper protocol to follow when faced with unruly, aggressive or violent customers.
Employers also must ensure that a policy is in place to address the procedure for the reporting and investigating of workplace harassment complaints.
After the initial development, these policies must be reviewed as often as "necessary" (i.e., when there are significant changes in the workplace which may affect violence and/or harassment), but a review must also be done at least annually. These policies are critical documents. Employers can face penalties from the Ministry of Labour for not developing policies in accordance with the new act, and/or not complying with the policies when faced with a workplace violence or harassment issue.
4. Develop and maintain programs to implement the policies
Employers must include in the programs these specific measures and procedures:
- To control the risks identified in the risk assessment.
- For summoning immediate assistance when workplace violence occurs or is likely to occur.
For workers to report incidents of workplace violence or harassment.
- To state how the employer will investigate and deal with incidents or complaints of workplace violence or harassment.
5. Train employees
Employers must provide information and instruction to their employees regarding the contents of the policies and programs. This training is critical, as it implements all of the previously mentioned steps. Employees have the opportunity to learn what they can and what they must do to minimize risks in the workplace, what their obligations are in regards to the policies in place, and what the consequences are for non-compliance with the policies.
After reviewing the policies and programs with employees, an effective form of training is to present employees with realistic fact patterns (a legal term for a summary of events or presentation of the facts surrounding an event) and to demonstrate how to apply the policies and programs to the fact patterns.
Preparing for the changes in the Occupational Health and Safety Act will be a lengthy and detailed process for employers, particularly smaller businesses with limited resources. However, the changes to the legislation are an essential step in ensuring that employers are doing their part in reducing the risk of violence and harassment in their workplaces and to avoiding possible fines and liability.