Bill 168, an addition to the Ontario Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”), became law on June 15, 2010. Bill 168 requires all employers, regardless of size, to implement programs and policies that deal with workplace violence, bullying, harassment and even domestic violence that might occur in the workplace.
It’s been years since business owners and operators were first asked to address harassment in the workplace. High profile cases involving executives, media personalities and politicians (LOTS of politicians…) have created a heightened awareness of the importance of creating and maintaining a workplace that is free of harassment and discrimination for everyone.
Canadian businesses are required to implement policies that do not tolerate discriminatory attitudes. Ontario laws, as well as the moral and ethical requirements inherent in these issues, have entrenched safety in Ontario workplaces, making it the highest priority.
It would seem that Bill 168 and its requirements should prompt, at most, a cursory look at policies. Perhaps it would spur discussion with company leaders and managers reinforcing the importance of these issues. After all, everyone in your company treats each other with respect and dignity because that’s the example you set. No one would ever feel threatened or discriminated against in your company, right?
Not so fast. While the great majority of business owners and managers do indeed lead their companies in an exemplary fashion, that’s not enough.
It is highly significant that Bill 168 was an addition to the Ontario Health and Safety Act. Among other things, the OHSA states that employers may face inspections on a regular and unscheduled basis. Inspections can occur at any time.
Therefore, it is important to make sure that your workplace is safe and that the required committees and infrastructure are in place. As it relates to Bill 168, this means that employers must be able to demonstrate that all staff members have been trained on what Bill 168 means and that the appropriate risk assessments have been done.
On a nice summer day in 2011, Soberman’s Human Resources Manager arrived at our offices to find a friendly, but very business-like, inspector from the Ministry waiting for her in our lobby. We had been selected for a random inspection for Bill 168 compliance.
Where were our records with respect to Bill 168 training? Who had attended? What was the content of the training? Where was the risk assessment document that we had prepared and circulated? And where were the results?
The good news was that we had trained all firm members, beginning with our partners. Our policy was in our firm procedures, accessible both in hard copy and on our intranet. We circulated a risk assessment document, asking specifically whether anyone had ever felt unsafe or uncomfortable while working at the firm, and the results of the survey were readily available for the inspector.
And if we had not done all of these things? We could face penalties for not complying with Bill 168 that can cost up to $25,000 for individuals and up to $500,000 for corporations. The human cost of not paying attention to the crucial issues of workplace harassment, bullying and violence is incalculable.
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