Employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment for employees. And it’s not just a moral duty, it’s enshrined in occupational health and safety legislation across Canada.
That duty is comprehensive and, depending on the jurisdiction, covers a lot of territory. Stories on the cover of this issue highlight employer risks and responsibilities on two fronts — domestic violence and sexual harassment.
The shocking events at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French magazine, underscore an unfortunate reality of the world we live in: Despite the best efforts and intentions of legislators, police and policies, it is impossible to eliminate risk.
On Jan. 7, two heavily armed gunmen burst into the offices of the magazine. In the end, 12 people were dead and 11 injured.
Among the dead was a police officer assigned as a bodyguard to editor Stephane Charbonnier, who was also killed. The attack was carried out by Muslim extremists who were upset over the magazine’s publication of cartoons featuring the prophet Mohammad.
Having an armed guard protecting an individual employee is far above and beyond the norm when it comes to keeping workplaces safe, and yet even that extreme measure couldn’t stop the incomprehensible violence.
The offices of Charlie Hebdo had a heavily fortified door, according to French newspaper Le Monde. But the gunmen got through by forcing one of the cartoonists, who had been on her way out of the building, to enter the passcode at gunpoint.
It’s a sobering reminder that while there are precautions we can and should take, it can be virtually impossible to stop determined individuals from causing mayhem — and workplaces are not immune. Few organizations would have the same level of security as Charlie Hebdo, which had been targeted in the past by extremists for cartoons featuring images of Mohammad. (Though, nothing was sacred amid its pages — cartoons blasted religions and politicians of all stripes with equal fervour.)
While compiling the 2014 HR Year in Review feature on page 24, we were reminded of three violent incidents at Canadian workplaces involving employees attacking co-workers — a stabbing at an Edmonton grocery warehouse that left two dead and four injured; a shooting at a forest mill in Nanaimo, B.C., that killed two and injured two others; and a stabbing at a Toronto office during a termination meeting that injured four.
Unfortunately, there are more stories. One that always crosses my mind is the case of Lori Dupont, a nurse in my hometown of Windsor, Ont., who was stabbed to death in 2005 by a doctor she briefly dated. After killing Dupont, the doctor committed suicide by overdosing on drugs. That killing led to significant changes in Ontario to health and safety laws with the passing of Bill 168 — which puts significant onus on employers when it comes to domestic violence, among other things.
This isn’t a fun way to start 2015 and it comes hot on the heels of the assault on our own capital that left a soldier dead. The Charlie Hebdo attack is disturbing on many fronts — including the assault on freedom of speech and freedom of the press — but we can be heartened by the aftermath. More than three million people across France took to the streets in unity marches following the attack on the magazine, and a subsequent attack by another extremist on a Jewish grocery store. #JeSuisCharlie and #IAmCharlie quickly became trending Twitter hashtags — and not just in France, but all over the globe.
On our worst days, it’s worth remembering that people are generally good. Shortly after the Paris attack, I heard the song “Odds Are” by the Barenaked Ladies. Lead singer Ed Robertson croons, “So get up, get up. Tell the bookie ‘Put a bet up.’ Not a damn thing will go wrong. The odds are that we will probably be alright.”
We can’t be complacent, and HR and OHS professionals have a duty to ensure safe workplaces. But, odds are, we’re gonna be alright.
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