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Jun 15, 2010

Ontario set to enforce new violence and harassment requirements

Ontario’s Ministry of Labour inspectors have likely already written orders for employers who have not met the requirements under Bill 168. “I will be disappointed if they have not,” says Wayne De L’Orme, a provincial coordinator with the ministry’s Occupational Health and Safety Branch.

 L’Orme, the implementation lead for these new provisions, told Workplace in an interview on June 15th, the date the Violence and Harassment in the Workplace amendments to the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act came into effect, that checking on compliance with Bill 168 will now be part of their normal inspections.

MoL inspectors are going to ask employers if they have the policies, risk assessment and programs in place. And, says L’Orme, they will ask workers what Bill 168 is and whether they have been trained. When they find an employer not in compliance, they will suggest resources that the employer might pursue to comply with the legislation.

L’Orme notes that there are basically two categories of employers when it comes to these violence and harassment provisions. There are those who have been thinking and dealing about these issues for many years. They are generally finding that the legislation does not go as far as their own policies already do.

Then, there are others not really thought about what workplace violence or harassment might mean to their workplaces. The good news for these latecomers, says L’Orme is that there is “tons of material” available to use as resources to get their programs up and running. In particular, he points to the MoL website (www.labour.gov.on.ca/english), as well as to those of the various safe workplace associations.

“Violence can happen in any workplace,” L’Orme notes. “It’s difficult to predicts what any one individual can do. Employers need to look not only at their own workplaces, but situations and programs in similar types of workplaces for ideas.

“Setting up violence and harassment policies and programs is similar to setting up an emergency plan for something like a fire,” he says. “No one really expects to have a fire in their workplace, but they still have a plan, just in case.”

Determining the potential for violence
A provision that might be causing some confusion is the one dealing with domestic violence. This addresses a situation between two people intimate relationship that is brought into the workplace. L’Orme believes that Ontario is the first province to mention this in its legislation and was formulated to deal with situations like that faced by Lori Dupont.

Dupont was killed by her ex-boyfriend, Dr. Marc Daniel, in 2005 at Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor, Ont., where they both worked. The hospital was aware Daniel had been harassing Dupont and that the situation was getting worse, but it did not discipline him.

The new provisions tell employers that they have policies and procedure to deal with general, but they also may have to take specific precautions to deal with individual situations, such as the one faced by the Windsor hospital. L’Orme noted that an employer doesn’t have to go out and question staff directly about violence, but if an employer or its managers and supervisors notice problems, they cannot ignore them.

As employer, if they know it may enter workplace, have to deal with it, L’Orme says. The legislation trying to deal with times when employers knows about the potential of violence – and then, they are required to only give enough info to protect workers – e.g., in the case of psychiatric patients in a hospital, it would be reasonable to tell employees to take specific precautions; the same might apply if there is a troubled child in a school situation. Teachers at the school would have the right to know about the potential for violence.

“Employers don’t have to disclose any more information than necessary,” says L’Orme. “You don’t have to go snooping into background to see if there is a risk. “It’s similar to a situation in which a piece of equipment is not quite working right – workers need to be working in a heightened state and report back about any issues, and supervisors need to be monitoring the situation.”
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