What constitutes workplace violence and harassment?
While many individuals primarily associate violence with physical assaults, the concept of workplace violence and harassment encompasses a wider spectrum of issues. It can be characterized as any instance in which a person endures mistreatment, threats, intimidation, or assault within the context of their employment.
While specific definitions may diverge according to legal frameworks, generally speaking, workplace violence or harassment comprises the following:
- Threatening Behavior: This involves actions like brandishing fists, damaging property, or hurling objects.
- Verbal or Written Threats: Any expression of an intention to cause harm is included.
- Verbal Abuse: This encompasses profanity, insults, or patronizing language.
- Physical Attacks: This refers to actions such as hitting, pushing, shoving, or kicking.
Workplace Violence: An Overview
Workplace violence is defined as the use of physical force by an individual against an employee within a workplace, resulting in or having the potential to result in physical harm to the employee. It encompasses various scenarios, including:
- The act of physically harming an employee in the workplace.
- An attempt to physically harm an employee in the workplace.
- Statements or behavior that a reasonable person would interpret as a threat to physically harm an employee in the workplace.
Workplace violence can manifest in various forms, such as physical assault, hurling objects at employees, sexual violence, and threats expressed through verbal communication, written messages, or behavioral cues. It may be initiated by customers, clients, patients, students, co-workers, supervisors, or even strangers within the workplace.
Assessment of Workplace Violence Risks
Employers bear the responsibility of proactively evaluating the potential risks of workplace violence that may arise from factors such as the workplace’s nature, the type of work, or the working conditions. The identification and management of these risks must be integrated into a comprehensive workplace violence program.
Policy and Program for Workplace Violence
Employers are obligated to formulate a workplace violence policy and establish a program for its implementation. They must also ensure that workers are provided with information and training regarding the content of these policies and programs.
Communication of Risk
Employers and supervisors are required to inform employees about potential risks of workplace violence, especially when dealing with individuals who have a history of violent behavior. This notification is crucial if employees are likely to encounter such individuals during the course of their work and may face a risk of physical injury.
Workers possess the right to refuse work if they have reasonable grounds to believe that they are at risk of workplace violence. However, specific provisions may limit this right for workers responsible for public safety.
Duties and Responsibilities
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) establishes general duties for employers under Section 25, for supervisors under Section 27, and for workers under Section 28. These duties also extend to addressing workplace violence concerns as appropriate and relevant to the workplace.
Workplace Harassment: An Overview
Workplace harassment encompasses various behaviors, such as bullying, intimidating actions, offensive jokes or innuendos, the display or circulation of offensive content, and offensive or intimidating forms of communication like phone calls, emails, or other messages. It also includes instances of workplace sexual harassment. Harassment can be instigated by various individuals within the workplace, including customers, clients, patients, students, co-workers, supervisors, or even strangers.
Workplace harassment is defined as engaging in a continuous pattern of comments or actions that are vexatious and known or should reasonably be known to be unwelcome by a worker in their workplace.
Policy and Program to Address Workplace Harassment
Employers are obligated to create a comprehensive policy pertaining to workplace harassment and establish a program for the effective implementation of this policy. The program’s development and maintenance should involve consultation with the Joint Health and Safety Committee or a health and safety representative, if applicable. Furthermore, employers must ensure that workers receive information and training on the contents of the policy and program.
Responsibilities and Duties
To safeguard workers from workplace harassment, employers must fulfill several critical duties, including:
- Conducting an appropriate investigation into incidents and complaints of workplace harassment.
- Providing written communication to the worker who allegedly experienced workplace harassment and, if applicable, to the alleged harasser who is an employee of the employer, regarding the investigation results and any corrective actions taken or planned as a consequence of the investigation.
- Regularly reviewing the harassment program, as frequently as necessary but at least annually, to ensure that it effectively aligns with the workplace harassment policy’s requirements.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: An Overview
Workplace sexual harassment is characterized by:
The engagement in a repeated pattern of comments or actions directed at a worker within a workplace based on their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. This course of comments or actions should be recognized or reasonably perceived as unwelcome.
The making of a sexual solicitation or advance, where the individual making the solicitation or advance holds the power to confer, provide, or withhold benefits or advancements for the worker. Additionally, the person making the solicitation or advance should be aware or reasonably should be aware that the solicitation or advance is unwelcome.
Contacting the Ministry of Labour, Training, and Skills Development
In cases of emergency situations involving threats or actual violence at a workplace, it is paramount to prioritize immediate contact with the police.
The Ministry promotes the resolution of workplace incidents and complaints through internal channels. Whenever feasible, occurrences or complaints related to workplace violence or harassment should initially be reported to the immediate supervisor, employer, or the individual designated in the workplace harassment program. Workers also have the option to pursue the resolution of workplace harassment incidents or complaints through external means, distinct from the employer’s internal investigation process.
Learn More about workplace Violence and Harassment in Ontario Here
Ottawa Workplace Violence and Harassment Lawyers
Langevin Law, an Ottawa law firm, can help you with workplace violence and harassment cases. Our experienced team of lawyers is dedicated to providing expert guidance and support to both employees and employers dealing with these complex issues. With a deep understanding of the legal nuances surrounding workplace conflicts, Langevin Law works tirelessly to ensure fair and just resolutions.
We offer a reliable and compassionate resource for those seeking to address and rectify workplace violence and harassment concerns. Whether you’re an employee or an employer, Langevin Law is the trusted partner in Ottawa for effective legal solutions in these critical matters.