As an employer, you can directly affect the prevention of sexual harassment in your workplace. The policies and procedures you have in place, how you enforce them, and the message (or lack thereof) you send about sexual harassment can make big differences in whether your employees take preventing sexual harassment seriously or not. And not only do you have a moral obligation to protect your employees against workplace sexual harassment, it is a legal requirement as well.
With the compliance date for changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act made by Bill 132 fast approaching, it’s important for employers in Ontario to know their responsibilities regarding workplace sexual harassment, and to ensure they are legally compliant. New requirements take effect as of September 8, 2016 to better protect employees from workplace sexual harassment. You should refer to the Occupational Health and Safety Act for full details of your responsibilities as an employer. For a quick reference, here is a summary of the main changes employers must make under Bill 132:
- Revise the workplace harassment policy and program to meet the new legislative requirements, including updating the definition of harassment to include “workplace sexual harassment.” Download HRdownloads’ Workplace Anti-violence, Harassment, and Sexual Harassment Policy (Bills 168 and 132) – Ontario for a template that you can customize to meet your company’s needs.
- If no written program previously existed, develop and maintain a written program to implement the policy (the policy and program can be part of the same document).
- Establish a procedure for addressing and investigating incidents and complaints of harassment in the workplace.
- Ensure that information collected during an investigation will not be disclosed unless the disclosure is necessary to conduct the investigation, carry out corrective action, or is required by law.
- Create a process that will ensure both the complainant and respondent of a complaint are given the results of the investigation and a summary of any corrective action that will be taken.
- Review the policy and program at least annually.
- Ensure that employees are trained on the content of the policy and program, and if they previously received training, update them on any changes.
In addition to measures that address legal compliance, you should also think about going above and beyond. The culture in your workplace starts from the top. Make sure that you communicate your commitment to preventing workplace sexual harassment, and reaffirm this commitment periodically. Embrace transparency and let your employees know what you are doing to keep them safe. Make your organization’s culture of respect and support a priority. And don’t underestimate the effect that cultivating strong, positive co-worker relationships can have. Teambuilding activities can help to reinforce the bonds between employees and create a more supportive atmosphere in the workplace.
Workplace sexual harassment is a problem that requires substantial planning and ongoing efforts by employers to address. Meeting your legal obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act can only go so far towards reducing the likelihood that sexual harassment will occur in your workplace. Building a positive and supportive workplace culture will complement the policies and procedures you have in place, and further reduce the chance that incidents of workplace sexual harassment occur.
Are you ready for Bill 132? Our policy template is a great place to start. Download the Workplace Anti-violence, Harassment, and Sexual Harassment Policy (Bills 168 and 132) [Template] now!
Workplace Anti-Violence, Harassment, and Sexual Harassment Policy (Bills 168 and 132) – Ontario
Standing Committee on the Status of Women, A Study on Sexual Harassment in the Federal Workplace
Ontario Human Rights Commission, Sexual Harassment in Employment (fact sheet)
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