Requirements for employers to prevent harassment and violence in federally regulated workplaces

From: Employment and Social Development Canada

Starting January 1, 2021, as an employer working in a federally regulated industry or workplace, you should:

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Definition of workplace harassment and violence

According to Part II of the Canada Labour Code, harassment and violence means “any action, conduct or comment, including of a sexual nature, that can reasonably be expected to cause offence, humiliation or other physical or psychological injury or illness to an employee, including any prescribed action, conduct or comment.”

This includes all types of harassment and violence, including sexual harassment, sexual violence and domestic violence.

Examples of harassment and violence

The following is a non-exhaustive list:

  • aggressive or threatening behaviour, including verbal threats or abuse
  • physical assault
  • spreading malicious rumours or gossip about an individual or a group
  • socially excluding or isolating someone
  • damaging, hiding or stealing someone’s personal belongings or work equipment
  • persistently criticizing, undermining, belittling, demeaning or ridiculing someone
  • swearing at someone or using inappropriate language toward them
  • using the Internet to harass, threaten or maliciously embarrass someone
  • using the Internet to make sexual threats, or to harass or exploit someone sexually
  • abusing authority by publicly ridiculing or disciplining a subordinate
  • abusing authority by interfering with a subordinate’s performance or job (for example, blocking applications for leave, training or promotion in an arbitrary manner)
  • abusing authority by soliciting a sexual or romantic relationship from a subordinate, or making social invitations with sexual overtones to a subordinate
  • making abusive or derogatory remarks or jokes about someone’s gender, gender identity or gender expression, sex or sexual orientation (for example, homophobic remarks)
  • sexual touching (for example, patting, pinching, caressing, kissing, fondling)
  • sexual invitations or requests in return for a promise of a reward (such as a promotion)
  • displaying offensive posters, cartoons or images of a sexual nature
  • sending inappropriate electronic communications (for example, sexually explicit emails)
  • domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence, domestic abuse or relationship abuse) is a workplace hazard when it occurs in the workplace (it puts the targeted worker at risk and may pose a threat to coworkers)

What is not harassment and violence

Do not confuse workplace harassment and violence with normal workplace conflict and differences of opinion.

It is appropriate for your supervisors to take the following actions, as long as they act respectfully, professionally and in good faith:

  • directly supervise employees, including setting out performance expectations and providing constructive feedback about work performance
  • take measures to correct performance deficiencies, such as placing an employee on a performance improvement plan
  • take reasonable disciplinary actions
  • assign work, and direct how and when it should be done
  • request updates or status reports
  • approve or deny time off
  • request medical documents to support an absence from work

What you should include in your new workplace harassment and violence prevention policy

The workplace harassment and violence prevention policy may vary from employer to employer.

If your organization has:

  • up to 19 employees, you must develop the new policy with the health and safety representative
  • 20 to 299 employees, you must develop the new policy with the workplace committee
  • 300 or more employees, you must develop the new policy with the policy committee

However, a policy should normally:

  • include the employer’s commitment to prevent and protect employees against harassment and violence
  • describe the roles of workplace parties in relation to harassment and violence in the workplace
  • describe the risk factors that contribute to workplace harassment and violence
  • list training that you will provide about workplace harassment and violence
  • include the resolution process employees should follow if they witness or experience workplace harassment or violence
  • include the reason for which a review and update of the workplace assessment must be conducted
  • include the emergency procedures that must be implemented when:
    • an incident poses an immediate danger to the health and safety of an employee
    • when there is a threat of such an occurrence
  • describe how the employer will protect the privacy of the persons involved in:
    • an occurrence
    • the resolution process for an occurrence
  • describe any recourse that may be available to persons involved in an occurrence
  • describe the support measures that are available to employees, and
  • name the person designated to receive complaints related to the employer’s non-compliance with the Code or Regulations

For more information, consult the sample harassment and violence prevention user guide, before reviewing the sample policy. These samples are based on organizations of 300 or more employees.

Assess the risk of workplace harassment and violence

You will be required to conduct the workplace risk assessment with the following:

  • the health and safety representative, if your organization has up to 19 employees
  • the workplace committee, if your organization has 20 to 299 employees
  • the policy committee, if your organization has 300 or more employees

Consult the sample workplace risk assessment for guidance on how to assess the risk of harassment and violence in your workplace.

If the risk assessment is conducted with the policy committee, you should inform the workplace health and safety committee of the results. Learn more about the role of health and safety committees and representatives.

Keep records

Keep records on every incident of harassment and violence in the workplace and report annually to the Labour Program.

Workplace health and safety non-compliance

The Labour Program follows a compliance policy as part of the Canada Labour Code. It includes a range of responses to non-compliance, such as:

  • counselling
  • assurance of voluntary compliance
  • directions
  • prosecutions, if warranted

Consult Occupational Health and Safety and Compliance.

Inform and train employees, and attend training yourself

Inform and instruct your employees about the policy. Everyone in the workplace, including the employer, must participate in training about harassment and violence. The sample training syllabus may assist you and your applicable partners with developing or identifying the appropriate training on workplace harassment and violence prevention.

Respect in the workplace

You and your employees can help create a respectful workplace by:

  • listening and allowing others to speak
  • being supportive, cooperative and inclusive
  • expressing differences of opinion constructively and professionally
  • respecting professional boundaries

Resolve complaints

As an employer, you must try to resolve any harassment and violence complaints of which you have been informed. Follow the steps to resolve the incident with the complainant.

Definitions of key terms used when resolving a complaint

  • Applicable partner: a policy committee, or if no policy committee exists, a workplace committee or the health and safety representative
  • Conciliation: a discussion or series of discussions that is mediated by a neutral third party who is there to facilitate the discussion(s) and assist the parties involved in reaching resolution. All parties involved in conciliation must mutually agree to participate in conciliation and on the person who will be acting as the conciliator. A conciliator can be a professional mediator, a supervisor, an Elder, a religious figure, a colleague, etc.
  • Designated recipient: the individual, or work unit, designated by the employer to receive notification of an occurrence
  • Negotiated resolution: any form of communication between the participating parties to discuss the occurrence and attempt to reach agreement on possible actions to resolve the occurrence
  • Occurrence: an occurrence of harassment and violence in the workplace
  • Principal party: an employee or employer who is the object of an occurrence
  • Resolution process: all the avenues of resolution – negotiated resolution, conciliation and investigation
  • Responding party: the person who is alleged to have been responsible for the occurrence
  • Witness: a witness to an occurrence or someone who is informed of an occurrence by the principal party or responding party.
  • Workplace: means any place where an employee is engaged in work for the employee’s employer as per 122(1) of Code.

Tools and resources for workplaces

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