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General employment, health and safety information is not legal advice

violence-harassment-policyI recently received feedback from a reader stating “I checked with the Ministry of Labour and you don’t need two separate policies to meet your workplace violence and harassment obligations. Your information is wrong.”

I love to hear from a reader or a client that the information I have given them is wrong! This means they have listened to me, done their homework and found a different answer. Always question information you read or are given, double-check it, triple-check it and then make up your own mind about how you are going to proceed. However, it does not make the information in itself wrong.

For example, in the months leading up to the passage of Bill 168, many authors, experts and training companies were telling readers that the new law did not apply to your business if you employed five or fewer workers!

This advice was partially true: The law states that an employer is required to (a) prepare a policy with respect to workplace violence; (b) prepare a policy with respect to workplace harassment; and (c) review the policies as often as is necessary, but at least annually.

The law adds that these policies shall be in written form and shall be posted at a conspicuous place in the workplace.

However, the law provides an exception to the last rule, workplaces with five or fewer workers are exempt from having these policies in writing and posted in the workplace unless an inspector orders it. This exemption does not mean employers with five or less employees are exempt from having to protect their employees from the risk of workplace violence and harassment or having policies.

But how do you prepare and implement a policy without actually writing it? Why take the time to prepare a policy and then not put it in writing for your employees to read? Not to mention for the Ministry of Labour inspector to read. Incidentally, inspectors are empowered to order you to provide your policies in writing, at their discretion, even if you have five or fewer workers.

Best, I think, to be proactive and put them in writing before the inspector arrives! Imagine explaining to a busy inspector that your policies have been prepared, according to law, and they are in your head because the law says you don’t have to put them in writing!

In another example, I, along with hundreds of other information providers, have written for months now that Bill 168 requires all Ontario employers to have in place two policies:

  • One “with respect to workplace harassment”
  • One “with respect to workplace violence”

Does this mean you need to sit down and write two brand new policies in addition to the policies you already have?

That is for you, as an employer, to decide. The legislation refers to two distinct policies and refers to these documents in the plural, i.e., “policies”. Perhaps it is sufficient to have one policy that covers both topics. The law does not go into that much detail.

The Ministry of Labour website reveals:

Employers may choose to prepare a separate workplace violence policy or they may choose to combine it with another policy required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act such as the workplace harassment policy [Section 32.0.1(1)(b)] or occupational health and safety policy [Section 25(2)(j)].

When you are acquiring knowledge and deciding what to do, consider this:

  • Information posted on government websites is not legal advice and is posted for general information purposes to help organizations and individuals understand the law
  • Information available on the Internet, in online publications or in a reference manual or software program, and elsewhere, even if credible, is not legal advice, and should always be double-checked—this information is provided for general informational purposes only to help employers understand and comply, not to resolve specific cases
  • Do your homework; obtain information from several sources; then decide
  • If you are unsure, retain the services of a lawyer and obtain legal advice
  • Prepare a workplace violence and harassment program that is customized to meet the needs of your workplace and that complies with the law

LEARN—DON’T LITIGATE

  • Check with colleagues to learn what other employers are doing
  • Keep informed: watch for news on how the courts are interpreting the new law
  • Be prepared to make changes pursuant to the orders of a labour inspector

Andrew Lawson
LEARN—DON’T LITIGATE

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Andrew Lawson

Trainer and advisor at Learn Don't Litigate
Andrew Lawson is a human rights and health and safety trainer and advisor, currently consulting to both the federal and Ontario governments. Since 1996, he has conducted extensive legal research in the areas of human rights and occupational health and safety law. He has worked in the people management business for over 25 years. Read more
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