The Federal Government has recently introduced Bill C-65, 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, which provides for significant changes in how federally-regulated workplaces must address workplace violence and harassment. Bill C-65 follows a year-long public consultation commissioned by the Ministry of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour that concluded that harassment and violence in workplaces is underreported and not dealt with effectively when reported. Bill C-65 seeks to enhance the current legislative framework, which was originally intended to apply to workplace accidents and did not apply to the public service nor to employees on Parliament Hill.
Bill C-65, if passed into law in its present form, would impose several new duties on employers. Employers would be required to investigate, record and report, in accordance with the requirements that would be prescribed in regulations, all occurrences of harassment or violence. In addition, employers would have to take certain prescribed measures to prevent and protect against harassment and violence in the workplace, respond to occurrences of harassment and violence in the workplace, and offer support to employees affected by harassment and violence. The scope and content of these regulations is unknown.
Under Bill C-65, an employee may request that an unresolved complaint relating to an occurrence of harassment or violence be referred directly to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour. The Minister would not be obligated to investigate if they are of the opinion that the complaint has been adequately dealt with via another federal statute or by collective agreement or if they are of the opinion that the matter is trivial, frivolous or vexatious.
The Bill also includes significant measures to protect the privacy of complainants and respondents involved in a workplace harassment or violence investigation. Workplace committees, policy committees and health and safety representatives would not be permitted to participate in investigations into workplace harassment or violence. Unless consent has been provided, the employer would be obligated to ensure that workplace committees, policy committees or health and safety representatives are not provided with any information that is likely to reveal the identity of a person involved in a workplace violence and harassment investigation. These measures are in response to the government’s determination that fear of retaliation is keeping some workers from reporting harassment or violence in the workplace.
Although the Bill would only apply to federally-regulated employers, many of these changes are in line with the current legislative framework in Ontario for provincially-regulated employers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Employers in Ontario are currently required to maintain workplace harassment and violence policies and investigate complaints related to workplace violence and harassment. A failure to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act can result in steeps fines from the Ministry of Labour. It remains to be seen if Bill C-65 will incorporate any additional enforcement mechanisms or fines to ensure compliance.
Bill C-65 is currently in First Reading in the House of Commons. We will continue to provide further updates on the Bill as it progresses. In the interim, if you have any questions regarding Bill C-65, do not hesitate to contact any lawyer in our Labour & Employment Law Group.