Incidents became public shortly before Ontario’s new workplace violence bill took effect
A media frenzy erupted when a cellphone video of City of Mississauga employees duct-taped together on a table while other employees threw water balloons at them was leaked to the CBC — about two weeks before Ontario’s new workplace violence and harassment legislation came into effect on June 15.
But Mississauga, Ont. — a city with a population of almost 700,000 located just west of Toronto — had already quietly dealt with the incident. In November 2009, it ordered an independent investigation into a string of hazing incidents that had reportedly been going on for years in the city’s transportation and works department.
Employees reported being tied up with duct tape and spanked until they were bruised. One employee was bound with duct tape, and put on the back of a truck as it went through a car wash. All the incidents occurred under the encouragement of department supervisor Domenic Galamini.
Termination wasn’t warranted, concluded the investigator’s report, released in March. Workers admitted to the hazing but described it as “appreciated, good-natured and voluntary,” it said.
However, Galamini violated the city’s respectful workplace policy by allowing and participating in practical jokes, hazing rituals and other inappropriate behaviours in the workplace, found the investigator. But allegations Galamini intimidated and bullied his staff could not be substantiated, found the report.
All employees in the department, including Galamini, received retraining in the city’s respectful workplace policies and practices, said Sharon Willock, director of human resources at the City of Mississauga. They were also informed any similar action, consensual or not, would result in immediate dismissal.
“It is unacceptable,” she said.
However, once the video was made public, Peel Police began an investigation. The police interviewed 24 people and reported to city council on June 9 there were no grounds for criminal charges as eyewitnesses confirmed employees involved in the hazing consented to the activities.
In light of the reaction — from the media, the public and city council — the city decided to suspend the two supervisors involved, without pay, said city manager Janice Baker at a press conference on June 9.
“The message to our employees is clear — this behaviour will not be tolerated,” she said.
The two unnamed supervisors were also ordered to submit written apologies to residents, staff and council.
The city’s respectful workplace policy included provisions about harassment and violence but, with Bill 168, the city revised its respectful workplace policy and created a separate workplace violence policy. However, the situation would still have been handled the same way under the new policy, said Willock.
“It’s got more information about reporting incidents, more definitions around workplace violence and highlighted what the different roles and responsibilities are of the various parties in the organization,” she said.
The workplace violence policy states the city “will not tolerate any acts of violence and will take all reasonable and practical measures to prevent violence in the workplace.” The respectful workplace policy states “no form of discrimination, harassment or bullying will be tolerated.”
The city began training managers on the new workplace violence policy in June, with all staff scheduled to undergo training soon, said Willock. Workplace assessments for risk of violence have also started, she said.
“We had all this ready way before this unfortunate incident and media attention,” she said.
Like Mississauga, many employers already have various policies in place to deal with the issues raised in Bill 168, said Wayne De L’Orme, provincial co-ordinator for the industrial health and safety program at the Ontario Ministry of Labour.
“The bill is addressing issues that workplaces have had to address for many, many years outside of it being in the occupational safety act,” he said.
Most companies will only have to adjust a few elements in their current policies to comply with the legislation, said De L’Orme.
“I think most companies have a lot more in place than what they’re giving themselves credit for,” he said.
On June 15, ministry inspectors began workplace inspections to see if employers have a posted policy on harassment (including bullying) and violence, if they have a program in place and if employees have been trained on the policy, said De L’Orme.
“One of the things the new provisions in the act does is make workplace violence a hazard just like any other hazard in their workplace,” he said.
If one or more elements are missing, the inspectors will write an order requiring the employer to correct it. But there will be no other disciplinary action while workplaces get used to the legislation, said De L’Orme. Instead, inspectors will tell employers where they can get more resources to help them comply with the legislation.
When asked if the hazing at the City of Mississauga would have resulted in harsher discipline had it occurred after the legislation came into force, De L’Orme pointed out the legislation doesn’t specify punishment for perpetrators of violence or bullying.
“With violence, police would have to be involved, so they would take over the discipline,” he said. “What the employer should do above and beyond that will be very specific to the case.”
Unfortunately, just having a policy isn’t enough to ensure a safe and respectful environment, according to a survey by ProActive ReSolutions in Vancouver.
The consulting firm surveyed 8,000 employers in Canada and Australia on respectful workplace policies and found while 60 per cent were aware of their organizations’ respectful workplace policies, 58 per cent said they weren’t prepared to respond appropriately when they were being treated with disrespect.
Also, 69 per cent said the policy had been violated at least once.
Even though the survey was specific to respectful workplace policies, it can apply to workplace violence and harassment policies as well, said Joe Moore, managing director at ProActive ReSolutions.
If employees aren’t given the chance to look through the policy, ask questions about it, be given examples about how to apply it, then it’s like giving a teenager a book on how a car works and expecting them to know how to drive, said Moore.
As part of the education process, managers should sit down with employees and talk about what harassment and violence looks like at work, he said. Ask them what behaviours make them feel good about being at work and which ones make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe at work.
“Then you’ve got a list of things you can encourage people to do more often and a list of behaviours you can encourage people to do less of,” said Moore. “Once you’ve got those lists, you can more easily start to hold people accountable.”
Workplace violence and harassment
Employer responsibilities under Ontario’s Bill 168
Bill 168, which amends Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act to protect workers from workplace violence and harassment, came into force on June 15.
The new protections require employers to:
• Develop and communicate workplace violence and harassment prevention policies and programs to workers.
• Assess the risks of workplace violence, and take reasonable precautions to protect workers from possible domestic violence in the workplace.
• Allow workers to remove themselves from harmful situations if they have reason to believe they are at risk of imminent danger due to workplace violence.
• Alert certain workers of the risk of workplace violence from persons with a history of violent behaviour. Employers and supervisors must provide workers who may encounter such persons at work with as much information, including personal information, as needed to protect the workers from physical injury.