An important new law about sexual harassment and sexual violence in the workplace was passed yesterday to surprisingly little fanfare.
Bill 132 was introduced to add sexual violence and harassment prohibitions to various Ontario acts in order increase protections for employees in the workplace among others. The bill also applies to college and university students, residential tenants and victims of crime.
It is somewhat shocking that in 2016 workplace sexual harassment policies aren’t already a part of the acts dealing with the safety of employees in Ontario.
It definitely wasn’t part of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which deals with nothing other than the health and safety of employees and other parties at work. Among other things, the act “makes it clear that employers have the greatest responsibilities with respect to health and safety in the workplace.”
Not only were sexual harassment policies not mandated but sexual harassment wasn’t even included in OHSA’s definition of “workplace harassment.”
Now “workplace sexual harassment” will be included, and it basically says that commentary and/or behaviour of a sexual nature directed against a worker because of their sex or gender, as well as unwanted sexual requests or advances being made by a person in a position of power over the worker constitutes workplace sexual harassment.
Given that 28 per cent of Canadians say they have been subject to unwanted sexual talk or advances, etc., at work, this is a much-needed tool needed to ensure employers take seriously their obligations to safeguard employees.
For instance, the recent media reports about waitresses being required by some restaurants to wear skimpy outfits that made many female servers feel uncomfortable but they did it in order to keep their jobs.
It didn’t seem to faze some restaurant owners that requiring waitresses to bear some skin or show some leg may be an infringement of their human rights.
Under the new OHSA requirements, restaurants would now be forced to ensure the scantily dressed waitresses be protected from sexual harassment.
The bill creates specific employer responsibilities to protect workers and gives the Ministry of Labour broader powers to protect employees from sexual harassment by requiring an employer to investigate a harassment incident.
In other words, the OHSA puts pressure on employers to keep their serving staff free from sexual harassment under the watchful eyes of the ministry, which can punish non-compliance, which is something no employer wants.
After all, fines and investigations of your employment practices can’t be good for business.