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[HR] Workplace Harassment & Violence: Federal Bill 65 Gets Royal Assent

Clear, unambiguous policy communication, Education & training of employees at all levels of the organization, leadership indicating zero tolerance and a systemic culture shift remain the primary ways to eradicate workplace harassment of any kind.

About 19% of Canadian women and 13% of men reported being harassed in the workplace, with the highest level of harassment in health-care jobs, according to Statistics Canada. Verbal abuse was the most common form of harassment for both men and women with 13% of women and 10% of men reporting they’d experienced abuse in the preceding year. Sexual harassment was most likely to affect women, with 4% saying they had experienced unwanted sexual attention in the workplace, compared to fewer than 1% of men.

The results, based on Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey, gathered data in 2016, the year before the #MeToo movement focused attention on sexual harassment. The report was released December 17th 2018.  The survey conducted from August to December 2016 questioned 19,609 men and women aged 15 to 64, who had worked for pay in the preceding year. Survey questions asked people whether they had experienced verbal abuse, humiliating behavior, threats, physical violence, and unwanted sexual attention or sexual harassment in the workplace in the past year. About 53% of women said the harassment came from a client or a customer at work.  compared with 42% of men – but this typically never gets reported to their employer.

Among men, 39% of those reporting harassment in the Statistics Canada survey said they’d been harassed by a supervisor or manager, while among women, more — 34% — said they’d been harassed by peers or colleagues.

The survey found that being harassed at work was associated with stress, poor mental health and lack of motivation. About 47% of men and 34% of women who had been harassed by a supervisor or manager reported a weak sense of belonging to their current organization, compared with 16% of both women and men who said they had not been harassed at work in the past year.

The Federal Government is thus focusing on harassment and violence with the passage of Bill C-65 in parliament. It received Royal Assent on October 25th 2018. The key message for employees is that they have this added protection, and the message for employers it that the law is now clear and streamlined, to make sure employers understand their duties. When it comes to prevention, the new law will require mandatory training of federally regulated employers and employees.

Examples of what does not constitute harassment

  • Normal exercise of management’s right to manage such as the day-to-day management of operations, performance at work or absenteeism, the assignment of tasks, reference checks, and the application of progressive discipline, up to and including termination, constitute the legitimate exercise of management’s authority. (Note. While exercising the normal managerial functions is not harassment, how such functions are exercised can risk giving rise to the potential for harassment or perceptions of harassment.)
  • Workplace conflict in itself, does not constitute harassment but could turn into harassment if no steps are taken to resolve the conflict.
  • Work related stress in itself does not constitute harassment, but the accumulation of stress factors may increase the risk of harassment.
  • Difficult conditions of employment, professional constraints, and organizational changes.
  • A single or isolated incident such as an inappropriate remark or having an abrupt manner.
  • A social relationship welcomed by both individuals.
  • Friendly gestures among co-workers such as a pat on the back.

The recent Ontario Court of Appeal (OCA) review of the Nova Scotia vs BMG case (Tort (civil liability) damages set at $175,000) and the recent Render vs ThysennKrupp and Zando vs Ali rulings highlight the potential for legal actions and extent of punitive damages that can be awarded, not to mention the reputational harm it can cause an employer.

Thus, it is imperative for employers to understand the law on workplace violence and harassment. Workers, supervisors and employers have rights and duties when dealing with workplace violence and harassment. Use this guide to know yours.  More resources are also available at the Ontario Ministry of Labour website that deals with this issue. Additionally, an Employer guide is available for federally regulated employers with valuable information that can still apply even if your workplace is not federally regulated.