How to Create a Safe Working Environment: The law
-written by the Honourable Kevin Flynn, Ontario Minister of Labour
Everyone in Ontario has the right to a safe work environment. This is the fundamental philosophy at the Ministry of Labour. It’s also a fundamental belief of mine.
Safety doesn’t just mean freedom from physical dangers; it means freedom from psychological ones too. This includes harassment of any kind.
In March 2016, the Ontario Legislature passed Bill 132, the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act. As part of this legislation, amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act came into effect on Sept. 8. Restaurant owners and foodservice providers need to be aware of a number of updates that will help you provide a safe work environment:
We are providing clarification that workplace harassment includes sexual harassment. This includes any harassment of a worker because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, as well as unwelcome sexual solicitation or advances by someone in a position to either grant or turn down advancement or benefit.
It’s important for employers to know that this definition does not include “reasonable management action” that leads to direction and control of work routinely carried out by management in the workplace.
While the majority of restaurant owners and operators already provide a safe workplace for their employees, we felt it was important to build upon the responsibilities already in place. So we created new employer duties to ensure sexual violence and harassment of any kind is not tolerated.
Employers must now ensure an appropriate investigation into an incident or complaint takes place. It is also the duty of the employer to ensure the complainant and the alleged harasser (if under the employer’s direction) are informed, in writing, of the results and any corrective action.
Workplace Harassment Programs
An employer’s workplace harassment program must also be in writing, and developed and maintained through consultation with either the joint health and safety committee or a health and safety representative.
Workplace harassment programs must now include measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment if the alleged harasser is the employer or a supervisor. They must also outline how confidentiality during an investigation will be maintained, and how all parties will be informed of the results, as well as any corrective action needed.
Ministry of Labour inspectors have also been empowered to order an investigation where warranted.
The government is also investing $1.7 million over three years to give restaurant and hospitality workers tools to intervene safely and to support survivors of sexual violence and harassment. We are doing this because we want workers to feel empowered to react when they witness violence or harassment.
These changes will protect workers, as well as employers who follow the rules. Every workplace in Ontario must be a safe work environment. I look forward to continuing our partnership and working with the restaurant industry to ensure all workers feel safe and secure while on the job.
To learn more about how the government is creating a safer province for everyone, visit the It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment progress report.
The Honourable Kevin Flynn is the Minister of Labour in Ontario.