Ontario's recently enacted workplace violence amendment places a legal onus on provincially regulated employers to safeguard employees from the risk of domestic violence in the workplace. Additional jurisdictions are likely to follow suit. In legal terms, domestic violence is increasingly becoming a foreseeable workplace risk. In moral terms, inaction on this growing workplace issue would introduce unacceptable human risk.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that most of the requirements of Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act (Violence and Harassment in the Workplace) 2009 are uncontroversial, and most organizations should have little trouble understanding them and complying. However, one aspect of the law has caused more discussion and confusion than any other: the domestic violence provisions, which require employers to intervene in instances where they suspect (based on reasonable evidence) that an employee has suffered or is suffering from domestic violence, particularly if that violence might reach into the workplace.
The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act violence and harassment prevention provisions (Bill 168) require an employer to take all reasonable precautions in the circumstances for the protection of all employees if a domestic violence situation is likely to expose a worker to physical injury in the workplace and the employer becomes aware or ought reasonably to be aware of the situation. But what does that imply? The law states the requirement but provides little guidance on what employers need to do to prevent domestic violence from spilling into the workplace. In addition, many employers are not comfortable addressing a situation of such a personal nature. It is not an easy task to complete and might never be.