Modifications to the Canada Labour Code: Overview of the Amendments on Harassment and Violence in the Workplace

1. Introduction

After several drafts, the Canada Labour Code (the “Code”) has undergone a number of amendments, reflecting in particular the Federal Legislature’s intention to eradicate harassment and violence in the workplace, promote improved work-family balance, and protect workers in precarious situations.

This article is dedicated to outlining the recent amendments to the provisions of the Code on harassment and violence in the workplace effected by Bill C-651 (the “Bill”). In an upcoming article2, we will elaborate on the changes to the minimum labour standards provided for in the Code.

2. Harassment and violence in the workplace

Amendments necessary given the state of the existing legislation

In today’s climate where allegations of harassment or other forms of misconduct in the workplace are taken very seriously and now tend to be subject to a zero tolerance policy, an update of the Code was deemed necessary by the Federal Legislature. Indeed the Code as we knew it did not appear well suited to deal with current issues and concerns on this topic. To remedy the situation, the Federal Legislature based itself on the following three pillars:

  • Prevent and protect against incidents of harassment and violence in the workplace;  
  • Respond effectively when they occur;
  • Support and assist victims and employers throughout the resolution process.

A series of amendments

The principal amendments regarding harassment and violence in the workplace are the following:

  • Definition of harassment and violence as any action, conduct or comment, including of a sexual nature, that can reasonably be expected to cause offence, humiliation or other physical or psychological injury or illness to an employee.
  • Broadening employers’ obligations to include former employees regarding an incident of harassment or violence in the workplace, if the incident becomes known to the employer within three months after the date on which the former employee ceased to be employed by the employer.
  • Requirement for employers to provide all employees with training on the prevention of harassment and violence in the workplace.
  • Conducting an investigation in line with the requirements of regulations to be adopted by the government.
  • Prohibition on workplace committees, policy committees, and health and safety representatives from participating in investigations into incidents of harassment or violence in the workplace.
  • Making available to employees, in printed and electronic form, copies of Part II of the Code, the applicable regulations, the employer’s general policy on health and safety in the workplace, and other relevant information contained in applicable regulations.

It should also be noted that the government recently published a draft of the Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations (the “Regulations”), which gives a good indication of the provisions the Regulations will contain.

The goals of the Regulations include:

  • Change the culture of harassment and violence in the workplace: create a culture change in the workplace where civility and respect are the standard.
  • Acknowledge a continuum of behaviours that qualify as harassment and violence: to support the concept of a continuum of inappropriate behaviours, all forms of harassment and violence, ranging from teasing and unwanted advances to assault, will be taken into account.
  • Emphasize the importance of prevention.
  • Emphasize the importance of privacy and confidentiality: in an effort to encourage those who have witnessed harassment and violence in the workplace to come forward.
  • Establish a process for handling complaints. 

As of the date of the present article, neither the Bill nor the Regulations give any indication as to when the latter will take effect.

Practical advice 

In anticipation of the coming into force of these new provisions on harassment and violence in the workplace every federally regulated organization should:

  • Watch for developments regarding the Regulations;
  • Adopt a policy on harassment and violence in the workplace, or update the organization’s existing policy;
  • Prepare and schedule training sessions for management and staff.

3. Conclusion

In light of the foregoing, every federally regulated organization should keep a close eye on recent developments and best practices in terms of preventing and managing harassment and violence in the workplace, because odds are that some adjustments to current policies and practices will be required. We will keep you updated on all new developments.

Stay tuned for our upcoming article on changes to the minimum standards provided for in the Code!

1 An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (harassment and violence), the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No.1 (assented to on October 25, 2018), 1st Session, 42nd Parliament (Can.)
2 To be published in September 2019.

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