Amendments to Manitoba’s Workplace Safety and Health Regulation make it one of the tougher jurisdictions with measures in place to prevent violence in the workplace, according to Jamie Jurczak, an associate at law firm Taylor McCarthy in Winnipeg.
“It’s heightening the awareness that violence does take place in the workplace and is also telling employers that they have to do something actively to take steps to try and prevent incidents of violence that may happen to their workers,” she said. “They can’t just assume violence is part of the job and have to put up with it. Employers are now being expected to take an active role… to put measures and procedures in place to eliminate that risk or reduce the risk as much as they can.”
As of Aug. 31, 2011, employers in certain sectors in Manitoba that statistically have a greater risk of violence — such as
pharmaceutical dispensing, health care, finance, law enforcement, taxicabs, licensed premises and education — are mandated to develop a violence prevention policy.
“It just makes it a little more obvious that we know there’s risks here and is drawing attention to the fact that these workplaces, in particular, bring with them a heightened risk of violence,” said Jurczak.
Manitoba introduced requirements for violence prevention with a major rewrite of its safety and health regulations in 2007. But, since then, it has heard from certain sectors about increasing incidents of workplace violence, said Don Hurst, assistant deputy minister of Manitoba’s Workplace Safety and Health Division. So the province has added provisions with more specific requirements.
Employers that aren’t in high-risk sectors must assess the risk of violence to workers with input from a committee, workplace representative or workers. If a risk is identified, employers must also develop a policy to protect workers and train them accordingly.
The policy must set out an employer’s actions and measures to eliminate or control the risk of violence, said the legislation. It must describe any particular work site where an incident of violence has occurred — or may reasonably be expected to occur — and any particular job functions at the workplace where a worker has been, or could be, exposed to incidents of violence.
“That really should be the building block of what your policies and procedures should be — it’s all predicated upon, ‘What risk do you have?’” said Glenn French, president and CEO of the Canadian Initiative on Workplace Violence.
Under the legislation, employers might have to inform employees of people who have a history of violent behaviour if workers are likely to encounter them in the course of their work.
Unfortunately, this section is not as clear as it could be, said Jurczak. “It obviously doesn’t provide any specifics: ‘In the financial sector, look at this’ because it is applying to a cross-section (of employers).
“(Employers) are trying to grapple with how this is going to impact potential employee relations, how this is going to impact with privacy situations, if you’re dealing with an employee who mentions there’s an issue at home.”
While the legislation doesn’t specifically address domestic violence, it still covers that issue, said Hurst. If an employer is aware of a spouse or family member who poses a risk to an employee or others, it needs to take steps to alert people.
But does it mean, for example, an employer should reveal an employee was in a fight at his gym last year and he has a short fuse? said Jurczak.
“I can see it creating a lot of difficult issues for employers trying to grapple with, ‘What do we have a duty to advise about, what don’t we?’” she said. “It’s new and I don’t know of any particular legislation out there that is similar that can give us any guidance.”
But the sectors most affected by this are those such as retail, with people working alone in remote locations, or health care, where there are greater risks because of certain situations, such as patients with mental health issues or emergency rooms at night, said Hurst.
As for releasing personal information, people don’t need to know everything about a health problem, just enough to know this may occur, he said.
“It’s not that you know all their information, it’s just, ‘This person, given their condition, is prone to violence,’ and it may not be that they’re criminals, it may be they have serious health problems.”
And if employers present employees with a strategy for dealing with that kind of situation, it’s a reasonable measure to make sure workers are protected.
“So we wouldn’t, for example, consider that to be a right-to-refuse issue because (the employer has) a measure in place. If there wasn’t a measure in place, it would beg the question: ‘Well, is this unsafe work I should be refusing?’” said Hurst. “It’s intended to ensure there’s more information, more clarity to prevent the uncertainty.”
The policy section has also been expanded to include how: •to summon immediate assistance when violent or threatening situations occur
•workers should report an incident of violence to an employer
•an employer should document and investigate any incident of violence.
However, the government’s timing has been tight for employers, said Jurczak, as the legislation passed at the end of June and compliance was expected by Aug. 31. To do it properly, employers should sit down with workers, assess the risk, consider potential solutions and take the time to implement solutions and train employees, she said.
“It’s just a fairly short window of time to implement what, in my view, are not policies that can be drafted overnight if you’re going to be doing assessment properly,” said Jurczak.
However, most of these workplaces had requirements for this already, though they may have challenges around newer features such as summoning assistance, providing information and reporting incidents, said Hurst.
“Our sense is there’s not a lot of gaps (but) there may be consistency issues.”
And while employers are required to consult with workers, “ultimately the employer has responsibility to put in measures it feels are appropriate to protect their workers and they have the final say,” he said.
Manitoba is also requiring employers prepare an annual report recording incidents of violence at the workplace.
“I see Manitoba just taking the next step to broaden the definition (of workplace violence), be more specific about reporting, which is good, and I think that as long as we can measure the impact of this, that’s a good thing,” said French.
© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.