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Changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and revised regulations take effect on December 1, 2021. Read more about the changes to OHS laws.
Harassment and violence are defined as workplace hazards in Alberta’s updated Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act.
Employers are required to help prevent workplace harassment and violence and address incidents when they do occur.
The new rules:
- define workplace harassment and violence in all forms, including domestic and sexual violence
- require employers to investigate incidents of violence and harassment and take corrective action
- require employers to develop separate violence and harassment prevention plans
- require review of plans at least one every 3 years
- require employers to advise workers of treatment options if harmed by violence or harassment; workers are entitled to wages and benefits while attending treatment programs
- Harassment and violence: OHS requirements for workers and employers
- Workplace harassment and violence prevention plan samples and templates
- Gas station worker safety
- Sign up: Workplace violence and harassment webinar
Workplace harassment is defined as a single or repeated incident of objectionable or unwelcome conduct, comment, bullying or action intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person or group. It is a serious issue and creates an unhealthy work environment resulting in psychological harm to workers.
It does not include any reasonable conduct of an employer or supervisor related to the normal management of workers or a work site. Differences of opinion or minor disagreements between coworkers are also not generally considered to be workplace harassment if steps are taken to resolve the conflict.
Violence, whether at a work site or work related, is defined as the threatened, attempted or actual conduct of a person that causes or is likely to cause physical or psychological injury or harm. It can include:
- physical attack or aggression
- threatening behaviour
- verbal or written threats
- domestic violence
- sexual violence
Domestic violence becomes a workplace hazard when it occurs or spills over into the workplace. It may put the targeted worker at risk and may pose a threat to coworkers.
Employers must take reasonable precautions to protect affected workers if they are likely to be exposed to domestic violence at a work site.
Sexual violence as a workplace hazard refers to any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a worker’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in a workplace or work-related setting.
Sexual violence exists on a continuum from obscene name-calling to sexual assault and/or homicide. It includes online form of sexual violence, such as internet threats and harassment, and sexual exploitation.
Obligations of work site parties
As part of the changing roles of individuals at the work site, employers, supervisors and workers have specific duties they must follow to address harassment and violence at the workplace.
- Employers must ensure workers are not subject to or participate in harassment or violence at the work site.
- Supervisors must ensure workers under their supervision are not subject to harassment or violence at the work site.
- Workers must refrain from causing or participating in harassment or violence.
Harassment and violence are workplace hazards and must be addressed during a hazard assessment.
The hazard assessment and control process is a documented approach to prevent work-related illness or injury. It identifies situations that could put workers at risk for harassment or violence in the workplace. By recognizing these real and potential hazards, employers can take steps to eliminate or control them to prevent harm to workers.
Hazard assessments must involve the joint work site health and safety committee or health and safety representative, if there is one.
Every employer must develop and implement workplace harassment and violence prevention plans.
The plans must:
- include a prevention policy and prevention procedures
- be in writing and readily available for reference by workers at the work site, either in paper or electronic formats
Policies and procedures
Policies set overall expectations that harassment and violence are not tolerated in the work environment.
Procedures outline the methods or processes required to make the policy work on a day-to-day basis and establish a way of doing things that the employer and workers are to follow.
Refer to part 27 of the OHS Code for the requirements when developing the policies and procedures. As long as all the legislative requirements are met, employers have flexibility in how they organize the information.
Gas station worker safety
Employers in the retail fuel and convenience sector must meet additional requirements when developing and implementing violence prevention plans.
Review of plans
The plans must be reviewed every 3 years or more often if there is an incident of harassment or violence or if the health and safety committee or representative requests a review.
The review should focus on whether the policy or procedures are current and if there are any deficiencies or gaps that need to be addressed.
Employers must instruct workers on:
- the hazard of workplace harassment and violence
- how to recognize the signs of danger
- what to do about it
- how to report it
Investigating and reporting incidents
- investigate any incident of harassment or violence
- take action to address the incident
- prevent it from happening again
- prepare an investigation report outlining the circumstances of the incident and the corrective action
Employers must retain the investigation report for at least 2 years after the incident, keep it readily available and provide a copy to Alberta OHS on request.
Alberta OHS officers monitor the employer’s compliance with the requirement to investigate incidents of harassment and violence. Officers can write orders where work site parties don’t demonstrate compliance.
Employers must offer support to workers who are affected by an incident of harassment or violence in the workplace.
Affected workers should be advised to consult a health professional (of the worker’s choice) for treatment or referral. Workers should consider accessing services and resources through an employee assistance program, if one exists.
Employers cannot make any deductions from the worker’s wages and benefits if the treatment sessions occur during regular work hours.
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