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On June 15, 2010, significant new changes took effect in Ontario's occupational health and safety legislation. The changes to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act require extensive efforts in the workplace to prevent both violence and harassment at work.

Workplaces with more than five employees are now required to develop and maintain workplace policies to protect employees from violence and harassment in the workplace. The policies must be in writing, and posted in a public, visible location in the workplace. The employer must review the policies on a continuing basis, and as often as is necessary to ensure employees are protected.

These employers are then required to develop and maintain a comprehensive program to implement the anti-violence and harassment policies. The program must detail:

(a) Measures to control identified risks that could expose employees to physical injury (workplace violence);

(b) Procedures to summon immediate assistance when workplace violence occurs or is likely to occur (workplace violence);

(c) Procedures to report incidents of workplace violence or harassment;

(d) Procedures for how the employer will investigate and address incidents or complaints.

Employers must now undertake a risk assessment of workplace violence that may arise given the nature of the workplace, the type of work or the conditions of work. When conducting the assessment, employers must consider circumstances in their own workplace as well as circumstances that would be common in other similar workplaces.

After the risk assessment is completed, the employer must advise the health and safety committee or representative of its findings, or make its findings available to all employees where there is no committee. Employers must also make the appropriate changes to the workplace in accordance with its findings in order to minimize the risk of workplace violence. The employer must reassess risks of workplace violence on a continuing basis and as often as is necessary to ensure continued protection of workers from workplace violence.

Additionally, if an employer becomes aware, or ought to have been aware, that domestic violence may occur in the workplace, the employer must take all reasonable precautions to ensure that the worker is protected. Further, if a worker can be expected to encounter a person with a history of violent behaviour that will likely expose the worker to physical injury, the employer must advise the employee of that risk.

Workers are also entitled to training and information on the contents of the anti-violence and harassment policies and programs. Workers also have a right to refuse work if they have a reason to believe they are in danger from workplace violence. An employee cannot refuse to work, however, based on an allegation of workplace harassment.

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2021 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

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