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Workplace harassment provisions coming to the Canada Labour Code

workplace harassment

As many of you know, several new amendments to the Canada Labour Code (“the Code”) came into effect on September 1st. Employers cannot rest just yet – even bigger changes are expected to arrive in 2020 in relation to workplace harassment and violence.

Bill C-65, An Act to Amend the Canada Labour Code (harassment and violence) received Royal Assent on October 25, 2018. Although not in force yet, employers should turn their minds to these changes sooner rather than later since the Code currently does not address harassment directly. Some of these changes are summarized below. 

Definition of harassment and violence

The Code will now provide a definition of harassment and violence by defining it as “any action, conduct, or comment, including of a sexual nature, that can reasonably be expected to cause offence, humiliation or other physical or psychological injury or illness to an employee, including any prescribed action, conduct or comment”.

The amendments will also expand the Occupational Health and Safety section of the Code from solely preventing accidents and injuries in relation to the workplace to also preventing instances of harassment and violence as well as physical or psychological injuries.

New employer obligations

New obligations will be imposed on employers in connection with workplace harassment and violence. This will include investigating, reporting, and recording instances of harassment and violence.

In addition, employers will be required to respond to instances of harassment and violence in the workplace and offer support to any employees that have been affected by such issues.

Furthermore, a printed and electronic version of the following must be made available to employees as well:

  • Occupational Health and Safety part of the Code and any regulations made under that part;
  • A statement of the employer’s general policy regarding the health and safety of employees; and
  • Any other information relating to the health and safety prescribed or specified by the Minister.

New training requirements

Employers will also be required to ensure that employees, including supervisors and managers, receive adequate training in preventing harassment and violence in the workplace. Employers will also have a duty to ensure that individuals designated to receive harassment and violence complaints are properly equipped with the necessary skills including having sufficient knowledge, training, and experience in issues of harassment and violence as well as being knowledgeable of relevant legislation in this area.

New investigation requirements

Employees may make oral or written complaints to designated individuals or their own supervisors and these individuals must then try to resolve the complaint as soon as possible.

Any unresolved complaints in relation to harassment and violence can be referred to the Minister. The Minister will then investigate the complaint unless the complaint is an abuse of process or has already been properly dealt with by the Code, other legislation, or a collective agreement.

Subject to exceptions based on regulations, the above duties will also apply in relation to former employees if the employer becomes aware of the occurrence of harassment or violence within three months after the employee stops working for the employer. This three month time period may also be extended by the Governor in Council if the former employee applies for such an extension. Former employees may also make complaints in relation to workplace harassment and violence within a prescribed time period.

Lessons to be learned:

  1. Amendments to the Canada Labour Code are coming soon. They deal with workplace harassment and violence and they are significant because the Code has not previously expressly addressed these issues.
  2. Numerous positive obligations will be imposed on employers in relation to workplace harassment and violence.  This means employers will be required to introduce new policies if the employer has not already voluntarily and proactively addressed these issues.   
  3. Employment and labour laws are constantly changing and employers must remain aware of these amendments to ensure continued compliance. Subscribing to blogs, such as this one, is one way to make sure you are always informed when the law about is about to change.
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Doug MacLeod, MacLeod Law Firm

Employment and labour lawyer at MacLeod Law Firm
For the past 30 years, Doug MacLeod, founder of the MacLeod Law Firm, a Canadian labour and employment law firm, has been advising and representing employers in connection with employee terminations. If you have any questions, you can contact him at 416 317-9894 or at doug@macleodlawfirm.ca. Read more
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