The federal government is set to make changes to Canada’s workplace harassment laws. The media coverage of Bill C-65, which was announced in November 2017, has focused on the proposed changes to the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, which applies to MPs and their employees. However, the bill would also amend the Canada Labour Code (“the Code”), which applies to all federally regulated workplaces. Federally regulated workplaces employ almost 1,000,000 Canadians, including members of the Public Service of Canada, the banking industry, the telecommunications industry, and the transportation industry.
Bill C-65 would amend Part II of the Code, which concerns occupational health and safety. The purpose of Part II is currently to “prevent accidents and injury to health … arising in the course of employment.” Once the bill is passed, the purpose of Part II will be to “prevent accidents, occurrences of harassment and violence and physical or psychological injuries and illnesses … arising in the course of employment.” As a result, compliance with occupational health and safety requirements will include preventing workplace harassment.
Harassment and violence have been defined as: “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.”
Employers would have a number of new legal duties relating to workplace harassment. In addition to a general duty to prevent workplace harassment, employers will be required to:
- undergo training in the prevention of workplace harassment;
- ensure that all employees with supervisory responsibilities undergo training in the prevention of workplace harassment;
- ensure that employees affected by workplace harassment are properly supported
Additionally, former employees will now be able to file complaints up to three months after leaving the job in question.
Currently, employers who violate the health and safety requirements of the Code can be fined up to $100,000 or even imprisoned for two years. While Bill C-65 would not change these penalties, it would make them available for employers who engage in or fail to prevent workplace harassment.
This is intended to tackle harassment and violence in the workplace and provide employees and employers with a clear course of action on how to handle these types of situations. Although the current changes are directed at federally regulated employees, provincially regulated employees can still benefit from stricter harassment policies. Implementing such changes demonstrate the lack of tolerance for such behaviour and hope to have a deterring effect in all spheres of employment.
Employees and employers that have questions relating to harassment or violence in the workplace should seek legal counsel to ensure the situation is being handled appropriately.