Last month brought some tragic reminders of the reality of workplace violence and harassment and the obligations that employers have under Occupational Health and Safety Act.
On April 30th, a former employee was arrested after an act of workplace violence occurred at the Western Forest Products sawmill in British Columbia. Four employees were shot in the incident, resulting in two deaths. As the story unfolded, it was also revealed that the suspect was in a tense dispute with management over severance pay. Investigators are still trying to determine if the gunman had shown any previous signs of violence and what the relationship was between those involved in the shooting (Source: Vancouver Sun).
Another story that hits closer to home was a multiple stabbing that occurred in a Toronto workplace on April 9th. In this situation, an employee allegedly reacted to the termination of his employment by pulling a knife during the dismissal meeting and stabbing four of his co-workers. According to the detective on scene, two of the victims were believed to be the attacker’s superiors and were in the process of firing him when they were stabbed (Source: CTV News).
In both of these situations, the act of violence was carried out by a former employee reacting to their termination or severance pay. As extreme as these recent examples are, we cannot overlook the reality of workplace violence and harassment in the workplace.
The Occupational Health & Safety Act in Ontario, places an explicit obligation on employers to take steps to protect their employees from incidents of workplace violence and harassment.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, what must employers do to comply with workplace violence and harassment provisions under the Act (Bill 168)?
- Perform a risk assessment to determine risk of workplace violence, including research into similar businesses and communicate results to H&S Committee and/or employees. Re-assess annually.
- Develop written policies on workplace violence & harassment
- Create and communicate procedures, particularly related to: a) Reporting an incident and b) Summoning emergency assistance
- Prevent domestic violence from occurring in the workplace
- Disclose an individual’s history of violence where workers are likely to encounter that person in the course of their work and where there is a risk of physical injury
- Train for employees on new legislative changes
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