Ottawa playing catch up with provincial requirements by making training mandatory
Federally regulated companies will soon be required to investigate and provide training for workplace harassment and violence, including sexual harassment and sexual violence.
Ottawa made the announcement in late June that the requirements will take effect Jan. 1, 2021 when it published the Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations for Bill C-65, which set out the requirements for federally regulated employers under the Canada Labour Code. The CLC was part of a federal overhaul of labour laws passed in late 2018.
“I find it surprising that they've been so late to the game on such an important piece of legislation,” says Barry Kuretzky, a labour lawyer at Littler Mendelson P.C. in Toronto. “We've had similar regimes for a long time in Ontario and, in particular, there were amendments in September of 2016 which put in very similar training regulations.”
The regulations require employers to take certain steps jointly with their policy committee or their workplace committee or their health and safety representative; however, if they cannot jointly agree on a required step, the employer’s decision will prevail.
Kuretzky says the mandatory training is the most significant new requirement, although many federally regulated companies such as media companies and banks already have very similar policies.
“These are fundamentally, absolutely important issues,” Kuretzky says. “By having the legislation, by having the training, and the training is key, it brings to the workplace an understanding, both from managers and supervisors, and to the employees, what their rights are.”
The regulations outline the essential elements of a workplace harassment and violence prevention policy, including timeframes for resolution; confidentiality requirements; protection for employees victimized by a third party; qualifications of a person to investigate and provide recommendations; employer obligations to implement corrective measures; an outline of existing and new roles of the workplace committee and the support to be provided for employees who have experienced workplace harassment and violence.
“What the government is putting forth [now] is not foreign to Canadian employers,” says Kuretzky. “Even if you are not in a regime which legislates, most, even small, employers have taken [these issues] into account because there's been such positive publicity and from all regimes that this is inappropriate behavior in the workplace, that companies are doing the training, they're on top of the training.”
The changes to workplace sexual harassment and violence regulations were part of a larger change to the federal regime meant to adapt workplaces to the modern, often precarious, economy. Several changes made to the Canada Labour Code took effect in September 2019, including a new leave for victims of family violence of up to 10 days.