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Violence and harassment prevention: Keep hate crimes in check!

You are a people manager and one of your employees forwards a disturbing email to you that is being distributed via your company email accounts. The email contains a message advocating hatred and violence against Jewish people motivated by recent world events.

Your city, and others around the world, has recently published reports of preparations to celebrate Gay Pride. A small group of your staff is gathered around a newspaper article discussing Pride preparations, and you overhear the following lunchroom conversation:

“What do those faggots have to be proud about? They should be ashamed of themselves.”

The June 15th deadline that we have all been talking about, and many have worried about, has arrived—in fact, come and gone—and we are still here! Survivors!

June 15th, of course, is the date when amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act came into force requiring all Ontario employers to address the issues of workplace harassment and violence in concrete and visible ways (other Canadian jurisdictions have similar laws).

You have a legal obligation to understand how the race, religion and sexual orientation of your employees can impact their safety at work. Understanding these factors will empower you to take steps to protect your workers from harassment and violence as required by the new law.

One of the concrete methodologies created by the new law is the violence risk assessment. Statistics Canada data can assist you in understanding how your employees may be at risk for violence because of who they are.

Jewish people and black people are the most frequent victims of hate crimes based on their race and/or ethnicity according to a National Post report of Statistics Canada data released recently. The same article quotes Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, as saying,

“When there is a situation that has developed in the Middle East, dealing with the Jewish state of Israel, it is a truism to say hate crimes against Jews rise.”

Furthermore, sexual orientation motivated twice as many violent attacks in 2008 compared to the previous year. And Vancouver is the “gay-bashing capital of Canada”.

Recent amendments to health and safety legislation throughout Canada together with your due diligence obligations require employers to be aware of the type of information reviewed in this article. Be aware that your enhanced responsibilities with respect to workplace harassment and violence have just begun… regardless of your state of compliance with the new law.

Learn—don’t Litigate. Ensure that your knowledge is current. Invest in workplace training for yourself, your managers and your front-line staff.

Read more about Ontario’s amended Occupational Health and Safety Act on First Reference Talks.

Andrew Lawson
Human Rights Advisor, 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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