Bill 168, Ontario's sweeping new workplace violence and safety legislation, takes effect June 15, coming at an inopportune time for provincially regulated employers including subsidiaries of U.S. companies.
"Many companies cut their safety budgets in the recession, even as the Ministry of Labour [MOL] stepped up enforcement," says Cheryl Edwards, a partner at Heenan Blaikie. "Bill 168 imposes positive obligations that will heighten the effect of that double whammy."
While Bill 168 does require employers to conduct a workplace violence (but not harassment) risk assessment, it specifies only that the assessment must take into account workplace-specific circumstances that would be common to similar workplaces. While the bill references further elements required by future regulations, there is no indication such regulations will be forthcoming before the law takes effect.
The bill does stipulate, however, that workplace violence programs at a minimum must include procedures to control the risk identified in the assessment and summon immediate assistance when violence or threats occur. Violence risk assessment programs must include procedures for reporting, investigating and dealing with incidents and complaints.
"There may be legislated privacy provisions that apply, and the conflicts that arise could give rise to complicated legal issues," Currie says.
Interestingly, there is no duty to warn employees of the risk of harassment, and the right to refuse work does not extend to workplace harassment.