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Home > Lowe's for Pros > Creating a Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy

Creating a Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy

Creating a Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy

By Kelly Hagler

It’s been more than a year since Ontario lawmakers revamped the province’s growing workforce laws. In June 2010, Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) went into effect, requiring all employers in Ontario to evaluate the risk of violence within their business and put programs in place to manage potential issues.

In the six months following the bill’s announcement, every business with more than five employees was required to develop a "Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy" with the committed help of MOL. According to the Canadian Safety Reporter, MOL inspectors investigated more than 400 complaints involving workplace violence and issued about 600 orders associated with OHSA during the first nine months of the legislation.

But the implementation of Bill 168 is more than just legislative jargon and government nitpicking. "The whole concept of violence legislation is to ensure that workplaces have thought about issues," says Wayne De L’Orme, provincial coordinator for the Industrial Health and Safety Program of the Ontario MOL. "The Ministry of Labour builds a framework so workplaces can have really difficult conversations that people don’t like to have."

So is your business ready for a conversation about workplace ethics?

Make your Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy a communication tool

In any workplace where employees work closely together, conflict is bound to arise. How you deal with those issues is what really matters, De L’Orme says. According to John Mohle, secretary and treasurer of Wellington Construction company in Palmerston, Ont., which employs 35 to 50 people, establishing a plan was an important step in keeping Wellington employees safe.

"Communication should always be the starting point," Mohle says. "Not avoiding violence and harassment issues."

Establishing one for your small business

Introducing a policy as far-reaching as the Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy can be an overwhelming process. But it’s important for all businesses in every service area.

In order to deter violence and create your own Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy for your small business, try following these three initial steps:

  • Post a clear statement. De L’Orme suggests posting a visible statement in the workplace affirming that violence is not tolerated. "Ask that the policy be posted and signed by the highest-ranked person possible in the corporate structure," he says.
  • Perform a workplace-specific assessment. This assessment is tailored to the individual business. For example, do employees handle cash or have direct, physical access to consumers? This assessment should address any potential issues of the workplace—specifically how workers are able to bring issues to employers’ attention and what will be done with these complaints, says De L’Orme. On a construction site for example, many different supervisors and contractors work closely together, increasing the risk of management disputes or employee disagreements. Often, construction sites are in locations that can be accessed by the general public as well. So this can also lead to potential conflict between workers and bystanders, De L’Orme says. Issues such as these should be addressed in your assessment.
  • Educate your employees. Workers should be instructed in all aspects of the policy. A key step is making sure that everyone understands the statutory requirements, suggests Mohle. "If an inspector asks, the employee should know what exactly they need to do to use the program," says De L’Orme.

Get the Facts

When developing a Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy, employers need to take it step-by-step, says De L’Orme. This might mean referring to outside resources for developmental guidance. From videos and sample policies to assessment examples, the MOL offers an array of resources to help employers.

Health and Safety—a segment within the MOL—developed sector-specific groups to help employers and workers understand and enact policies within different workplaces. There are four main sector-specific groups that develop materials and work personally with different environments, De L’Orme says: Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (serving construction, utilities and transportation workplaces); Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (serving the manufacturing and farming workplaces); Public Services Health and Safety Association (serving workplaces in healthcare and municipal government sectors); and Workplace Safety North (serving all sectors in northern Ontario with expertise in the mining, pulp and paper, logging, and forestry sectors).

Many organizations, such as the Ontario Service Safety Alliance (OSSA), expanded their websites to highlight MOL-supported and downloadable resources for employers and workers. The OSSA website features a comprehensive bill overview, information booklets and checklists.

Keeping your employees safe

Creating a Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy for your business is the first step toward a healthy workplace where employees and supervisors are better able to work together, efficiently and without fear. With the implementation of the OHSA, employers now have a clear guide to approaching and discussing issues effectively.

"Passing legislation is a reflection of changing societal values, says De L’Orme. "It is a clear statement that workplace violence and harassment is not acceptable."

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