New rules seek to improve workplace complaints process

Toronto civil litigator Stephany Mandin hopes Ontario’s new rules governing workplace sexual violence and harassment will give employees the courage to report such incidents.

“It calls for more accountability for employers and a level of consistency for the employees, which hopefully also takes away some of the stigma and fear about making complaints at work,” says Mandin, founder of Mandin Law.

Bill 132, an act to amend various statutes with respect to sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence and related matters, received royal assent in March 2016.

The legislation was part of the It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment initiative launched by the Ontario government in March 2015. The bill amends several government statutes, including the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), to strengthen employees’ protections against workplace sexual harassment and violence from colleagues, managers and third parties in the workplace.

Mandin tells that Bill 132 was meant to build on amendments made to the OHSA in 2010 by Bill 168, which primarily addressed workplace violence but left employees with little guidance in addressing workplace sexual harassment.

“The key improvement here is that there is increased transparency, accountability and consistency in how workplace investigations are conducted and how sexual harassment and violence are dealt with on the job,” she says.

“It creates a more uniform process and an obligation for employers to apply the same rules to everyone.”

Mandin says the bill is a “good tool” for addressing workplace sexual harassment and violence.

“It provides the parameters for a safe, amicable, harassment-free workplace throughout the employment relationship. That’s really important if for no other reason than to send the message that ‘it’s never OK.’”

She says the new rules have also helped spark discussion about workplace issues since Bill 132 requires companies to review their written policies every year.

“Many employers are now choosing to hold seminars and meetings to discuss the law and their policies,” Mandin says.

“I think it’s a good thing that people are more aware. Not necessarily on edge, but more mindful of the issue and aware of their potential liability. It just helps everyone govern themselves in a more respectful manner.”

While the bill puts more of an onus on employers, Mandin says it’s a bit vague on what exactly should be contained in a worksite’s policies.

“It’s likely that we’ll eventually see the courts interpret the rules around what constitutes a good policy,” she says.

“I expect that this will evolve as we have seen much of the common law evolve through trial and error and we’ll be able to extrapolate those parameters.”