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“It’s Never Okay” - Ontario Government takes firm stance to end sexual harassment and violence

In Ontario, all employers must take steps to prevent and react to harassment and violence in the workplace. Part III.0.1 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to prepare and annually review policies with respect to both workplace violence and workplace harassment. Additionally, a program must be maintained in order to uphold the workplace violence policy. In this latest announcement from Premier Kathleen Wynne, the Province of Ontario has unveiled a new action plan to specifically address sexual harassment and violence: not only in the workplace, but also in the community, and elsewhere in the Province.

The announcement comes on the heels of some very high profile sexual harassment cases such as Jian Ghomeshi’s dismissal from the CBC and two Liberal MP’s being booted from caucus following an investigation of sexual harassment. These types of cases have brought the issue of workplace sexual harassment to the fore of media consciousness, and now it appears the government will take legislative action to address a problem faced by nearly a third of women in the workforce.

Premier Wynne has outlined 13 commitments to combat sexual harassment. Those commitments expected to impact employers are provided below:

  • Introduce legislation to strengthen provisions related to sexual violence and harassment in the workplace, on campus, in housing, and through the civil claim process.
  • Introduce legislation to require colleges and universities to work with students to adopt campus-wide sexual violence and harassment policies that include training, prevention, complaint procedures and response protocols.
  • Develop up-to-date training for front-line workers in the health, community services, education and justice sectors to better support survivors of sexual assault and harassment and develop training for workers in the hospitality sector to empower them to know how to help when they encounter high-risk situations.
  • Enhance workplace laws to strengthen enforcement under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, including establishing a Code of Practice to help employers develop stronger sexual harassment policies.

It is unclear when and how the legislation will be drafted, but it is important that employers be prepared for change. Based on the above commitments, it appears that employers may be required to draft their own policies and may be required to work with other stakeholder groups (e.g. students) in developing policies, programs, and training initiatives. In the meantime it is important that employers remain vigilant under the current harassment and violence requirements. The lawyers at CCPartners will be sure to provide updates as to how you may be affected as an employer any time new details are released.

Click on the appropriate link if you need advice with respect to a workplace investigation, or with understanding your current harassment/violence obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and one of our lawyers with expertise in that area will be happy to assist you.

Please Note: This blog has been prepared as an informational service for our clients and other interested parties. It is not intended to constitute legal advice, a complete statement of the law or opinion on any subject. Although we endeavour to ensure the accuracy of the content, no one should act upon the information provided without a thorough examination of the law after the facts of a specific situation are fully considered.



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