Liberals seek to tighten workplace harassment rules for businesses, Parliament

OTTAWA - The federal government is embarking on a regulatory overhaul to crack down on harassment in federal workplaces, from Parliament Hill to local bank branches.

New legislation unveiled Tuesday is aimed at giving workers and their employers a clear course of action to better deal with allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment, exerting more pressure on companies to combat unacceptable behaviour and punish those who don't take it seriously.

The changes will merge separate labour standards for sexual harassment and violence and subject them to the same scrutiny and dispute resolution process, which could include having an outside investigator brought in to review allegations.

The proposed rules would also enforce strict privacy rules to protect the victims of harassment or violence.

Once passed, the legislation would also allow anyone unhappy with how their dispute is being handled to complain to the federal labour minister, who could step in to investigate and order sanctions for employers.

"Smart employers already take action. They already have comprehensive regulations and policies. They already protect their employees from harassment and sexual violence," Labour Minister Patty Hajdu told a news conference.

"What this (legislation) will compel is those other employers that are not taking it as seriously and not putting forward the protections that every person has the right to in the workplace."

The rules would, once they come into force, apply to all federally regulated workplaces, such as banks, telecommunications and transport industries, representing about eight per cent of the national labour force.

The Liberals want the rules to apply to politicians, their staff and other Parliament Hill employees, warning of dire repercussions for any MP or senator who flouts the rules.

Department officials say it could take a year or more before the rules come into effect, since regulations would have to be crafted once the bill receives parliamentary approval. Hajdu said her officials wouldn't wait that long to help businesses who want to craft their own policies in the interim.

The government launched consultations on dealing with workplace violence in the summer of 2016 to review the existing laws and regulations under the Canada Labour Code.

Last week, a federal survey showed that while three-quarters of respondents said they recently reported harassment, sexual harassment or violence, two-fifths of those complaints were never addressed. The results of the online survey are not representative of the population because it was not a random sampling, officials warned.

But Hajdu said the government wanted to give people confidence that inappropriate office behaviour would not swept under the rug.

"That's an important piece about this legislation that we do combat that very real perception where people say they have come forward, they have taken the chance to speak about their experience, and nothing is done."

Government officials must still consult anew with labour and employer groups to more clearly define what constitutes harassment under the new regime, create a list of third-party investigators who could be recommended to review complaints of harassment or violence, and help workplaces track incidents to better allow federal workplace inspectors to plan spot inspections.

Hajdu said the government would launch an awareness campaign, but wouldn't say how much it would cost.

The government's bill doesn't outline sanctions for employees found guilty of harassment. The sanctions are on employers who are ultimately responsible for protecting their workers, Hajdu said.


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