New harassment regulations: What you need to know

The requirements are extensive and significant, with new procedures for complaints

New harassment regulations: What you need to know
Nadia Zaman

Jan. 1, 2021 will not only ring in a new year - it is also when federally regulated employers covered under Part II of the Canada Labour Code, including but not limited to banks, airports, radio and television broadcasting and cable systems, and the federal public service, will be required to start complying with the Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations.

And it will be important for them to act soon.

The requirements under the regulations are extensive and significant. Employers will be required to review and update current policies relating to workplace harassment and violence and must follow a new procedure when responding to such complaints.

Some of the key requirements are outlined below:

Workplace harassment and violence prevention policy: Employers must, jointly with the applicable partner, prepare the workplace harassment and violence prevention policy. The applicable partner includes the policy committee, the workplace committee, or the health and safety representative (the “applicable partner”). The policy must outline how the employer will address workplace harassment and violence. The mandatory requirements for such policy are set out in section 10 of the regulations.

Risk assessment: Employers must, jointly with the applicable partner, conduct risk assessments (i.e. identify risks of harassment and violence in the workplace). They must also take proactive steps to implement measures to protect the workplace from such risks. The workplace assessment must be updated and reviewed at least every three years.

Training: Employers must, jointly with the applicable partner, identify or develop training on workplace harassment and violence prevention. Employees, employers and the designated recipient must receive such training within one year of the regulations coming into force and, for those employees who commence employment after the regulations come into force, within three months of commencing employment. The training materials must be reviewed and (if necessary) updated at least every three years.

Support: Employers must provide support to employees who have experienced workplace harassment and violence, including making information about the support services (such as those related to their mental health) in their geographical area available to them as well as describing the support measures available to employees in their policy.

Privacy: Employers must implement strong privacy protections in order to encourage employees to come forward and protect the confidentiality of all parties involved throughout the process. If an investigation is conducted, the final investigation report must not reveal the identity of persons involved in an occurrence of workplace harassment or violence, or the resolution process for the same.

Resolution process: Employers will be required to follow a new resolution process when responding to workplace harassment and violence complaints. This new resolution process requires employers to respond within seven days of an incident being reported and to regularly communicate with the parties involved. In addition, several options for seeking resolution are provided. While an employer may attempt to resolve the complaint through negotiated mediation or conciliation (as long as all parties to the complaint agree to it), if the matter has not been resolved, an investigation must be carried out. The regulations specify requirements regarding how a competent investigator is to be selected. The resolution process must be completed within one year after the day on which notice of the occurrence is provided.

Corrective measures: Employers must implement corrective measures in response to an investigator’s report in order to help prevent future occurrences of harassment and violence in the workplace.

Records: Employers will be required to keep records of every incident of harassment and violence in the workplace and provide an annual report to the labour program.

Although the new year may seem far away, federal employers do have some work to do prior to Jan. 1, 2021, so that they can be ready when the time comes. Federal employers would be well advised to engage the applicable partner to review and update any existing policies as well as training materials relating to workplace harassment and violence and seek legal advice to ensure compliance and minimize potential liability. Failure to comply can lead to sanctions, including being named and shamed in the House of Commons.

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