After years of lobbying by the labour sector and others, the Ontario government has finally recognized workplace harassment and violence as occupational hazards.
Amendments to the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, passed in December, will come into force in June.
Under Bill 168, employers must devise workplace violence and harassment policies, develop a program to implement the policies, and engage in assessments to measure the risk of workplace violence. The new law also gives employees the right to refuse work if workplace violence is likely to endanger the employee and obliges employers to take precautions to protect their employees from domestic violence situations that may spill over into the workplace.
The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations played an active role in the campaign for the amendments.
In briefs to the labour ministry and parliamentarians, OCUFA noted that many faculty work alone, often at night, and often in largely empty labs or office buildings, with little or no security — and that there have been disturbing occurrences of violence in these situations. Librarians, especially those working evening and night shifts, are disproportionately affected by incidents of workplace harassment and aggressive behaviour.
Faculty, moreover, evaluate students’ academic performance, and some students become aggressive when objecting to an evaluation. Faculty also deal with plagiarism, and some students have reacted with violent rage when confronted with such allegations. Adding to the risk, faculty names, physical locations and office hours are broadly publicized and readily available on websites and signage, making it easy for an assailant to locate a faculty member.
OCUFA told legislators that while most universities have violence prevention programs, such programs fail to recognize the campus as a workplace. Current policies focus on the safety of students and other members of the community within a general safety environment. The new amendments mean campus programs must now extend beyond their current client focus to include employees.
Bill 168 defines “workplace violence” as physical force that causes or could cause physical injury, attempts to exercise physical force that could cause physical injury, and words or behaviour that can be reasonably interpreted as a threat of physical force.
The proposed legislation did not originally include specific threats, but successful lobbying by OCUFA and others persuaded the government to add this provision.
Workplace harassment is defined as an unwelcome “course of vexatious comment or conduct.”
Bill 168, which specifically addresses violence against workers, now brings Ontario in line with other jurisdictions that have introduced progressive measures to their health and safety legislation.
Article supplied by OCUFA president Mark Langer.