How to build a compliant workplace harassment and violence policy
By Bill Howatt and Kelly VanBuskirk
Federally-regulated employers in Canada now must meet legislated requirements regarding workplace anti-harassment and anti-violence policies.
As a result of implementation of 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, many employer policies will be obsolete and non-compliant and will require at least substantial revision — if not complete restructuring.
Creating a new policy to satisfy Regulation SOR/2020-130 under the Canada Labour Code will require a plan.
These six steps are offered as a starting point.
Step 1: Commit to preparing a new workplace anti-harassment and anti-violence policy that will benefit your employees and your entire organization for years to come
Policy development may not be your favourite activity, but this policy work affords an opportunity to make a real difference — not only in the lives of your employees but also in the success of your organization.
Statistics Canada data tell us that most Canadian workers have experienced harassment in their workplaces.
This misconduct has a substantial health impact on victims, and it frequently causes workplace conflict and friction that depletes morale, reduces organizational commitment and causes operations to seize up.
We’re often called upon to resolve conflicts that have burst into full flames after smouldering for a long period. A workplace conflict is much more difficult to resolve at the “Five-Alarm” stage than when it’s just a spark, but many employers ignore the problem for as long as possible, even though the extent of the damage to the affected employees, and the organization as a whole, only increases with time.
Step 2: Do your workplace assessment first
Reg. SOR/2020-130 fosters the creation and implementation of highly-effective workplace anti-harassment and anti-violence policies by requiring employers to do more than simply plagiarize an existing document that may not be relevant.
Writing your policy will result in a “rulebook” that’s designed for your workplace and your employees and to address the risk factors in your organization.
Your workplace assessment is required by law and will provide direction in your policy development.
Step 3: Be prepared to collaborate with your union(s) and business partners
Like most employers, you’re probably used to having complete, unfettered control over your workplace policies.
However, Reg. SOR/2020-130 imposes a different, collaborative approach to the development of your workplace anti-harassment and anti-violence policy.
You’ll need to consult with the union(s) that represent your employees, your joint health and safety committee and all other business partners.
While this may seem an intrusion into your business decision-making, it illustrates a mindset shift that’s beneficial to you and everyone in your workplace regarding harassment and violence.
These are prevalent problems, and everyone has responsibility for the solution.
Step 4: Ensure your policy covers the required elements
Regulation SOR/2020-130 lists specific ingredients for a successful anti-harassment and anti-violence policy, and you must cover all of them:
- your mission statement regarding the prevention of and protection against harassment and violence in your workplace
- a description of the respective roles of you and your business partners regarding harassment and violence in the workplace
- a description of the harassment and violence risk factors (both internal and external) in your workplace
- a summary of your anti-harassment and anti-violence training program
- a summary of your harassment and violence resolution process, including the name or identity of the person who will receive harassment and violence complaints and the process by which a victim or witness may provide notice of an alleged harassment or violence occurrence
- the reasons for a review and update of the workplace assessment
- a summary of the emergency procedures that must be implemented when a harassment or violence occurrence poses an immediate danger to the health and safety of an employee or when there’s a threat of such an occurrence
- a description of the privacy protections that will be applied for the benefit of individuals such as witnesses involved in an occurrence or in the resolution process
- a description of any recourse that may be available to individuals who are involved in an occurrence
- a description of the support measures that are available to employees, including your employee and family assistance program.
Step 5: Ensure all your employees and business partners receive a copy of your policy
The effectiveness of any workplace policy is dependent on people knowing that it exists.
While your anti-harassment and anti-violence training program will help, you’ll also have to establish a clear and simple approach to ensure that everyone in your workplace is aware of and receives your policy.
Step 6: Treat your anti-harassment and anti-violence policy and program as an investment in your business
Research demonstrates that workplace harassment and violence can cause devastating health effects for workers and can severely impact an organization’s productivity and success.
Your anti-harassment and anti-violence policy and program are valuable tools to advance the health and safety of your employees and the overall health of your organization.
The time, effort and expense you’re being required to spend on your policy and program are investments and, just as you wouldn’t neglect a financial investment, you should also not forget about your anti-harassment and anti-violence policy and program.
While Reg. SOR/2020-130 requires you to review these every three years, much more regular “tune-ups” will provide an incentive to measure the effectiveness of your policy and program.
In Canada and much of the Western world, workplace harassment and violence have reached epidemic proportions. These behaviours are disastrous for many employees and they cause significant disruptions in organizations.
Most Canadian provinces have already imposed legal obligations on employers to combat this misconduct, and now federally-regulated employers have similar requirements.
Meeting these obligations will not only make your organization safer — it will also foster a stronger and more productive work culture for you and your staff.
Bill Howatt is the Ottawa-based president of Howatt HR. Kelly VanBuskirk is a partner with Lawson Creamer in Saint John, N.B.
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