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Could you be liable for workplace violence? Ontario’s OHSA says so (conclusion)

Bill 168 Case2In our last post, we discussed the mock trial presented at the recent Workplace Safety & Prevention Services Partners and Prevention Conference, which told the story of Billy Bonka’s shipper/receiver, David, and his altercation with Taste-piration’s truck driver, which resulted in a workplace violence incident. In today’s post, we will further discuss the challenges facing Billy Bonka as the company heads into court to defend the charges laid by the Ontario Ministry of Labour. After investigating the details of the case, the Ministry of Labour laid charges against both Billy Bonka Confectioners Inc. and David’s supervisor, Brian Mercer.

Billy Bonka was charged with three counts against the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. After David was attacked, he couldn’t get cellphone reception in the storage facility. As part of Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act workplace violence provisions, this had been deemed the only means of summoning assistance, when employees were in the external storage facility. Billy Bonka Confectioners was subsequently charged with failing to take the reasonable precaution of ensuring procedures for summoning immediate assistance were in place, should a workplace violence and harassment incident occur.

It was revealed that Billy Bonka’s operations manager, Brian, was approached by David regarding several threatening text messages from Taste-piration’s truck driver, but Brian chose not to investigate further. This resulted in a further charge to Billy Bonka of failing to implement an effective workplace harassment program to prevent or minimize the chances of workplace violence and harassment from occurring.

Lastly, it was also revealed that Brian, Billy Bonka’s operations manager, was informed about Taste-piration’s truck driver’s violent altercation which occured at a company holiday party with another worker and which resulted in criminal charges being laid. Again Brian and Billy Bonka management decided not to mention anything to David the shipper/receiver. For that, Billy Bonka was charged with failing to provide information that is related to reducing the risk associated with workplace violence and injury to their workers.

Interestingly, not only was Billy Bonka, as a company, charged in this case, but Brian Mercer, Billy Bonka’s operations manager was also individually charged for two breaches to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. Brian was charged for not implementing the workplace harassment program and withholding information from David associated with the risk of meeting with the truck driver.

Unfortunately, the mock trial judge did not provide us with a final verdict. He did however indicate that the company, Billy Bonka, did not appear to have done everything that was reasonably necessary to ensure the safety of their workers. So, as an employer, supervisor, boss or HR manager, what would you have done? Would you have taken the necessary steps to avoid workplace violence and harassment? As you can see from the outcome of this case, not only was the entire company fined, but managers can also be individually fined for breaching the OHSA. How do you avoid this kind of situation in your workplace? Not sure where to start when it comes to Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act workplace violence provisions?

To assist employers in complying with the legislation and minimizing their risk, our experts at Clear Path have prepared do-it-yourself steps which walk you through the list of required actions for employers to take which will help prevent as well as limit their liability if an incident does happen to occur in your workplace. Those steps are as follows:

  1. Regularly (at least annually) perform a risk assessment to determine risk of workplace violence.
  2. Develop written policies on workplace violence and harassment and communicate them to  your workers.
  3. Create and communicate procedures, particularly related to reporting an incident and summoning emergency assistance.
  4. Disclose an individual’s history of violence where workers are likely to encounter that person in the course of their work or if there is a potential risk of physical injury.
  5. Train your employees! Help them understand the company’s obligation under this new legislation, in terms of disclosure of a history of violence but also the risk of liability companies now face.

Anna Aceto-Guerin
Clear Path Employer Services

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Clear Path Employer Services

Certified HR consultants and medical professionals at Clear Path Employer Services
Clear Path Employer Services is a team of certified HR consultants and medical professionals dedicated to resolving the human resources and claims management challenges facing businesses across Ontario. The company was founded in 2003 by Anna Aceto-Guerin, a Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) specializing in WSIB claims management and NEER cost containment, with a focus on return-to-work programs and acquiring SIEF cost relief for employers. Read more
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