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The ‘Ministry’ will investigate complaints of harassment… Really??!!

“The new legislation protects us from harassment, bullying. The Ministry will investigate and there is now zero tolerance for it.”

question-signTaking a respite from the heat wave that affected most of Central Canada last week, I dropped into a Tim Hortons for some cool refreshment. Seated near me was a group of workers who were dressed in similar uniforms. I think they were all cleaning staff from a nearby business. One of the group seemed to be a leader of sorts and was offering the above advice and information.

The leader was explaining to the group of workers that new legislation has been enacted in Ontario that will protect all of them if they are being harassed at work. As a human rights advisor and educator I was encouraged to overhear this educational conversation. I get excited when I hear people talking about how the law applies to their situation!

I was concerned however that part of the message this group was hearing was incorrect and misleading. Their leader was telling them that the “ministry” would investigate their complaints of harassment. This information was warmly received by the group, and I could almost see the complaint forms being filled out!!

The misinformation being distributed during this “staff meeting” reinforced for me the importance of providing competent staff training conducted by a knowledgeable, experienced professional.

The information these workers was being given was just plain wrong.

A quick search of the Ministry of Labour website reveals the following statement:

“It is not the role of ministry inspectors to resolve or mediate specific allegations of harassment in the workplace.”

The Ministry of Labour will investigate to ensure employers have policies and procedures in place for dealing with complaints of harassment and violence.

The ministry will investigate to ensure you have completed a violence risk assessment specific to your workplace.

The ministry will investigate to ensure you are communicating with your employees on these issues.

The ministry will not, as stated on its website, resolve specific complaints of harassment in the workplace.

Investigating specific complaints is the responsibility of the employer.

So, the group leader was partially correct. Legally, there is now less tolerance for harassment in the workplace in Ontario. Employers are responsible for creating a complaints process and educating employees on how a complaint will be handled.

The Ministry of Labour is responsible for ensuring employers have these systems in place; not for investigating complaints. The ministry furthermore has the legal authority to issue orders to comply where an employer is in contravention of the law and to prosecute an employer, supervisor or worker for failing to comply with an inspector’s order.

Learn—don’t Litigate. Obtain professional, knowledgeable assistance and train your staff today. Don’t wait for them to pick it up at Tim Hortons!

Andrew Lawson
Human Rights Advisor, Learn Don’t Litigate
www.learndl.ca

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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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6 thoughts on “The ‘Ministry’ will investigate complaints of harassment… Really??!!
  • Rusti-Ann Blanke, RST Training & Consulting says:

    Saskatchewan has had similar legislation in place since 2007. With or without such legislation, a policy is virtually worthless for preventing or resolving harassment(formally or ADR) unless its developed to suit the business (as opposed to slapped together to comply with the Act/regs), and accompanied by appropriate education and training. In my experience (law, complaint investigation, OHS education /training and consulting), most employers don’t seek out that training and need “convincing” as to its importance.

  • Good summary! In my experience both with OHS and as a trainer/consultant, the observations in your article cannot be repeated often enough. I mean that literally…the role of OHS continues to be similarly misconstrued here in Saskatchewan, and our legislation has been in place since 2007. The right to seek assistance from OHS is routinely misconstrued as a request triggering an investigation by OHS. In fact, OHS’s role is ensure the employer is fulfilling its obligations under the legislation to take reasonable steps to address concerns and complaints of harassment pursuant to a compliant policy.

    My guess is that most employers don’t have a policy that complies with the 1993 legislation (human rights based harassment), much less the amendment, but the biggest gap is lack of education/awareness and training.

  • Thanks for the comment, Barb. In talking to my clients and planning for training I find there is still a great lack of understanding about the actual requirements of Bill 168. This type of legislation signals a new era in lawmaking–less governmental responsibility and more employer responsibility.

  • You’re absolutely right. As a legal representative and now a workplace educator, I see first-hand the cost to employers who fail to understand the value of quality training. Training is like insurance and why my motto is “LEARN–don’t Litigate. Thanks for the comment.

  • Barb Ward says:

    Great article in explaining what the Ministry will and will not handle!

  • Lee S says:

    Maybe if the employees had the proper training they would know that it is not the ministrys duty to solve problems of harassment in the workplace. Alot of compainies think creating policies and having there employees sign them off is complying with the bill 168. They will find out the hard way.