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Workplace violence

The Government of Ontario enacted Bill 168, amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, in 2010 to better deal with violence in the workplace. The new law represents a significant change in how, and to what extent, both workplace violence and workplace harassment are regulated in the province. It broadens the definitions of workplace violence and places new requirements on Ontario employers.

According to the bill, workplace violence means:

  • The exercise of physical force by a person against a worker, in a workplace, that causes or could cause physical injury to the worker.
  • An attempt to exercise physical force against a worker, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to the worker.
  • A statement or behaviour that it is reasonable for a worker to interpret as a threat to exercise physical force against the worker, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to the worker.

Workplace harassment means:

  • Engaging in a course of vexatious [provoking or irritating] comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.
  • Workplace harassment may include bullying, intimidating or offensive jokes or innuendos, displaying or circulating offensive pictures or materials, or offensive or intimidating phone calls.

Under Bill 168, employers are required to:

  • Prepare policies with respect to workplace violence and workplace harassment.
  • Develop and maintain programs to implement their policies.
  • Provide information and instruction to workers on the contents of these policies and programs.

Workplace violence programs must include measures and procedures to summon help immediately when workplace violence occurs or is likely to occur, and controlling the risks identified in the assessment of risks. They must also include measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace violence/harassment and set out how the employer will investigate and deal with incidents or complaints.

The information in this section is drawn from the Government of Ontario’s Bill 168 web page.

For managers looking for advice on how to handle workplace harassment, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat has a great guide to consult which can be found by clicking here.

WorkSafe BC provides an extensive toolkit on workplace harassment that deals with issues including developing anti-harassment policies, increasing harassment awarenes and encouraging bullying reporting.