Compliance with employment laws can be a challenge in the workplace. Bill 168 raises the bar even highter.
When a disgruntled former employee showed up at an OC Transpo workplace in Ottawa, Ontario, and opened fire on his co-workers, it struck a blow to more than just those directly affected by the 1999 workplace incident. And when a Windsor, Ontario, nurse was stabbed to death at work by her former boyfriend in 2005, it was clear that more needed to be done to protect employees at work. Although there was federal legislation already in place, it wasn’t applicable to provicially regulated employers and therefore didn’t protect all Ontario employees from workplace violence.
And so it was that Bill 168, Preventing Workplace Violence and Harassment, was created. But what began as a necessary and powerful piece of legislation has become a logistical and financial nightmare for Ontario employers since its introduction in June of 2010.
Are you compliant?
“I would guess that 95 per cent of employers are non-compliant,” says Stephen Bird of Bird Richard, an Ottawa law firm that specializes in employment and labour law.
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“It’s a good piece of legislation, it’s designed to protect. But compliance comes at a very significant investment of time, human resources and money. And most employers haven’t got spare cash to invest in policies and procedures,” he says.
The new legislation requires a policy with respect to workplace harassment as well as workplace violence. “It’s significantly more comprehensive insofar as it includes domestic violence. If there’s any indication of domestic violence which may manifest itself in the workplace, there’s an obligation on employers to be vigilant for that as well,” says Bird. “It’s a very comprehensive piece of legislation, but the amount of work to do it properly by an employer is staggering.”
You can buy a template policy for a few hundred dollars, but Bill 168 is all about due diligence and risk analysis. You have to be able to identify the potential risks in the workplace and without doing that thoroughly and specifically any generic policy will be useless.
While Bird suggests having an outside party assess your company’s risk, the following steps can provide the basis for doing your own risk assessment:
- Talk to the police to find out what the incidence of crime is in the region, or how many people get assaulted in your part of town.
- Contact your landlord to find out what security measures are in place, what time the doors are locked and what type of access there is. Ask how many incidents have they had in the building.
- Assess your staff. Examine their circumstances. What type of people do you employ? What about an employee who is going through marital problems or has a drug problem? How is that going to translate into a potential scene of violence?
- And lastly, examine your systems. Assess the training you have in place to deal with violence. Is there a procedure for handling a violent encounter? Is there a procedure for terminations and where you conduct them? Do you do it near the doors so that you can easily get them out? Do you notify security to cancel their access? Do you have security escort them out?
These steps are just the beginning of a full risk assessment, but they show how detailed you need to be in the examination of your business to assess all the risk factors for potential problems.
“You’re never going to prevent every incidence of violence,” says Bird. “It’s about anticipating reasonable risk and taking reasonable precautions.”
*See tomorrow’s blog post for part 2: Steps to ensure compliance.