Federally regulated organizations should prepare for new provisions of the Canada Labour Code, write Catherine Biron and Romeo Aguilar Perez
After several drafts, the Canada Labour Code has undergone several amendments reflecting the Federal Legislature’s intention to eradicate harassment and violence in the workplace, promote improved work-family balance and protect workers in precarious situations.
This article is dedicated to outlining the recent amendments to the provisions of the Code on harassment and violence in the workplace affected by Bill C-65. In an upcoming article, we will elaborate on the changes to the minimum labour standards provided for in the Code.
Harassment and violence in the workplace
In today’s climate where allegations of harassment or other forms of misconduct in the workplace are taken very seriously and now tend to be subject to a zero-tolerance policy, the Federal Legislature deemed an update of the Code necessary. Indeed, the Code as we knew it did not appear well suited to deal with current issues and concerns in this area. To remedy the situation, the federal Legislature based its update on the following three pillars:
- Prevent and protect against incidents of harassment and violence in the workplace;
- Respond effectively when it occurs;
- Support and assist victims and employers throughout the resolution process.
A series of amendments
The principal amendments regarding harassment and violence in the workplace are the following:
- Definition of harassment and violence 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;
- Broadening employers’ obligations to include former employees regarding an incident of harassment or violence in the workplace, if the employer is aware of the incident within three months after the date of termination of employment of a former employee;
- Requirement for employers to provide all employees with training on the prevention of harassment and violence in the workplace;
- Conducting an investigation in line with the requirements of regulations to be adopted by the government;
- Prohibition on workplace committees, policy committees and health and safety representatives from participating in investigations into incidents of harassment or violence in the workplace;
- Making available to employees, in printed and electronic form, copies of Part II of the Code, the applicable regulations, the employer’s general policy on health and safety in the workplace and other relevant information contained in applicable regulations.
It should also be noted that the government recently published a draft of the Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations, which gives a good indication of the provisions these regulations will contain.
The goals of the regulations include:
- Changing the culture of harassment and violence in the workplace: by creating a culture of change in the workplace where civility and respect are the standard;
- Acknowledging a continuum of behaviours that qualify as harassment and violence: In order to support the concept of a continuum of inappropriate behaviours, all forms of harassment and violence, ranging from teasing and unwanted advances to assault, will be considered;
- Emphasizing the importance of prevention;
- Emphasizing the importance of privacy and confidentiality: to encourage those who have witnessed harassment and violence in the workplace to come forward;
- Establishing a process for handling complaints.
As of the date of the present article, neither the bill nor the regulations give any indication as to when the latter will take effect.
In anticipation of the coming into force of these new provisions on harassment and violence in the workplace, every federally regulated organization should:
- Watch for developments regarding the regulations;
- Adopt a policy on harassment and violence in the workplace or update the organization’s existing policy;
- Prepare and schedule training sessions for management and staff.
Considering the foregoing, every federally regulated organization should keep a close eye on recent developments and best practices in terms of preventing and managing harassment and violence in the workplace, because odds are that some adjustments to current policies and practices will be required. We will keep you updated on all new developments.
Stay tuned for our upcoming article on changes to the minimum standards provided for in the Code!
Catherine Biron is a partner who practises in the labour and employment law group of Langlois lawyers in Montréal. Romeo Aguilar Perez practises in the same group.