We hear a lot about bullying and harassment these days, especially when it involves cyber bullying using social media. We also know the devastating effects that may result from excessive bullying. As the victim of workplace harassment, I know firsthand how bullying can affect your life and your health. At that time, I was not aware of my rights and felt powerless as it was a David vs. Goliath scenario. Now employees have the right to feel safe at work and it is a mandatory requirement for employers to prevent violence and harassment in the workplace.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, this winter there will be more targeted safety blitzes at workplaces. Workplace Violence is targeted for February and March 2013. Given the significantly increased likelihood that your office will be met by an OHSA (Occupational Health and Safety Act) investigation, it seems prudent for you to be aware of your obligations, and to ensure that your policies, procedures and practices are up to date. The fines for non-compliance are hefty and in some cases can lead to prosecution.
Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace for their employees under the requirements of Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (Bill 168). Amendments to this act help protect workers from violence and harassment in workplaces. The amendments to this act require us to do the following:
• 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 that they are at risk of imminent danger due to workplace violence
Employers should not tolerate the harassment or degradation of another employee by an employee or the employer. This may include:
• any type of degrading comments about any staff member a form of direct harassment
• rudeness, neglect or indifference by any member of the staff.
• threats of physical violence
• intimidation of another worker
• the use of profanity in any professional setting is unacceptable
Your employee policies manual should include a statement like the following
“The harassment or degradation of another employee by an employee will lead to disciplinary action, up to and including immediate termination for just cause on the grounds of gross misconduct. We consider gossip and any type of degrading comments about any staff member a form of direct harassment and it will not be tolerated. The use of profanity in any professional setting is unacceptable. We will not tolerate rudeness, neglect or indifference by any member of the staff.”
Workplace violence is interpreted as unacceptable behaviour includes any incident in which there is:
(a) the exercise of physical force by a person against an employee, in the workplace, that causes or could cause physical injury to the employee,
(b) an attempt to exercise physical force against an employee, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to the employee,
(c) a statement or behaviour that it is reasonable for an employee to interpret as a threat to exercise physical force against the employee, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to the employee
(d) an attempt to threaten or assault a client or visitor to the workplace while on company premises; or
(e) an attempt by an employee to threaten or assault a client, co-worker or other individual in circumstances relating to the employee’s execution of his or her duties, whether on or off company premises.
““Unacceptable Behaviour” means physically or psychologically aggressive behaviours including but not limited to:
• hitting, kicking, punching, pushing, shoving, slapping, pinching, grabbing, biting
• carrying or brandishing weapons of any sort
• throwing objects at an individual with a view to cause physical injury or fear
• destruction of workplace or co-workers’ property
• threats of violence
• intimidating behaviour that causes the recipient to have a fear of physical violence
• obscene or harassing telephone calls.
These are just some of the examples that need to be considered when establishing a policy against Workplace Violence and Harassment. All employers in Ontario should have a Workplace Violence and Anti-Harassment Policy in place and your policy must be posted in a visible area of your office for your employees to see. If you would like more information about this or would like a sample policy, please feel free to send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line – Workplace Violence.
Why do you need a Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy? Because it protects employees and employers.