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In the wake of #MeToo and increasing awareness of the pernicious effects of harassment in the workplace, the government has been working towards modernizing labour legislation to ensure greater protection for employees in federal workplaces and at Parliament.


On October 25, 2018, Bill C-65: An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (harassment and violence), the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1  received royal assent. The companion Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations were published for public comment on April 11, 2019.

The government has not yet released a date on which the new legislation and related regulations will come into force.

Taking the Lead on Prevention

It’s no secret that toxic work culture comes at a high cost. According to the federal government, if Bill C-65 has the effect of reducing workplace harassment and violence by 1.8%, it would increase labour productivity by approximately 9 cents for every hour worked, which is expected to yield a GDP growth of about $840 million.

Employers increasingly understand that there’s a strong business case for ensuring a healthy and inclusive workplace – and that prevention and training is a worthwhile investment.

What is Meant by Harassment and Violence?

Under the new legislation, “harassment and violence means any action, conduct or comment, including of a sexual nature, that can reasonably be expected to cause offence, humiliation or other physical or psychological injury or illness to an employee, including any prescribed action, conduct or comment.”

Extensive New Obligations for Employers

The new regime will be grounded in amendments to the Canada Labour Code, Part II: Occupational Health and Safety. This section of the Code has traditionally been focused on preventing and addressing “accidents and injury to health” in the workplace. For instance, a slip-and-fall on work premises would fall squarely within this category. In contrast, harassment in the workplace that results in psychological injury would not easily fit within this definition.

Bill C-65 broadens this definition to include workplace-related “accidents, occurrences of harassment and violence, and physical or psychological injuries and illnesses” so that issues of workplace harassment are clearly captured under Part II of the Code. Once the legislation comes into force, federal employers will need to modify their Occupational Health and Safety practices to respond to this more expansive definition – and ensure that they are taking active steps to adequately prevent and respond to workplace harassment and violence.

Bill C-65 also creates a host of new obligations for employers such as:

  • Investigating, recording and reporting on occurrences of workplace harassment, including sexual harassment, and violence in addition to accidents, occupational illnesses and other hazardous incidents;
  • Ensuring that all employees are trained in the prevention of workplace harassment and violence and are informed of their rights and obligations;
  • Ensuring that the person they designate to receive complaints related to workplace harassment and violence has the requisite knowledge, training and experience; and
  • Employers themselves must participate in training in the prevention of workplace harassment and violence.

For more information about Bill C-65, and what you can do to prevent and respond to harassment in the workplace, please contact a member of our Employment Law Group.

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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