Goldblatt Partners articling student Erin Sobat recently published a new article in the Canadian Labour and Employment Law Journal, “Just Going Through the Motions? Regulating Personal Harassment under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act”.
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), Ontario employers must implement workplace harassment policies and investigate all complaints of harassment. However, there is no statutory right to be free from all forms of harassment. Only discriminatory harassment is explicitly prohibited under Ontario’s Human Rights Code. For other forms of harassment in non-unionized workplaces, there is generally only a right to an employer investigation and to be free from reprisal for making a complaint.
The article argues that requiring employer harassment policies and internal investigations will not stop harassment in workplaces where protections are most needed. Ministry of Labour Freedom of Information requests reveal widespread non-compliance with even these basic OHSA requirements, most notably among small food service and franchise businesses. Despite this, the Ministry’s enforcement response has been primarily education-based without monetary penalties.
This approach allows employers to simply go through the motions of addressing harassment issues. Instead, the article argues that we need a legislated right to be free from all forms of workplace harassment, a chance for external review of complaints, proactive inspections to address systemic factors that contribute to harassment, and real penalties for non-compliance.