The Occupational Health & Safety Act requires employers to prepare a harassment prevention program as an effort to protect the health and safety of their employees. The act defines workplace harassment as, "engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker, in a workplace – behaviour that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome." These types of behaviours can happen over a short or extended period of time and can include demeaning comments, rude or offensive jokes, and inappropriate sexual advances, among others.
When considering your harassment policy implementation, know that you have the option to combine this policy with you violence prevention policy, or occupational health and safety policy. If your company already has an anti-harassment policy that falls under the Ontario Human Rights Code, it may need to be modified to ensure compliance with the Occupational Health & Safety Act. While every employer is required to have a harassment prevention program in place, only those with more than six employees are required to have it in writing and posted in a visible place, unless notified otherwise by the Ministry of Labour. This is one example for harassment prevention using Ontario requirements. These may vary for other provinces and states so be sure to check the specific requirements for your jurisdiction.
The development of a harassment prevention program needs to address a couple key components. In getting started with the process, the employer is demonstrating their commitment to addressing workplace harassment. It is then necessary to consider all sources of potential harassment, which can include not only coworkers, but supervisors, clients and the general public. An outline of the roles and responsibilities of all involved parties will also be a required component in order for a successful harassment policy implementation. Lastly this program needs to be signed and dated by the highest level of management in order to be valid.
Once potential sources of harassment, and roles and responsibilities have been defined, the next required aspect of the harassment prevention program can be tackled. The first step is to establish measures and procedures where an employee can report incidents of workplace harassment to a superior or the employer. You must also create a procedure within your program that will outline how to investigate and deal with complaints of workplace harassment. As outlined by the Occupational Health & Safety Act, it may be beneficial to consider the following:
How well you communicate with and educate employees about your harassment prevention program will play a vital role in the success of its implementation. Employers are required to ensure employees are aware of the program and provided with appropriate instruction on policies and procedures. Specifically, workers must be aware of how to report incidents of workplace harassment, including any forms that need to be completed, who to report them to and how to expect it will be dealt with. Depending on the job, a worker may need additional instruction, which may include how to recognize and respond to harassment in the workplace. As well, supervisors may need additional training in order to ensure the proper procedure is understood in following up with complaints.
Your harassment prevention program should be reviewed annually. For more information, or to view an example workplace harassment prevention program, contact us and we can provide references for your jurisdiction.
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