Workplace Harassment Policies – Did You Know it’s the Law?

January 22, 2019 | Amy Groothuis

Workplace policies provide guidance and direction to employees on topics such as vacation accrual and time off, internet and email usage, and scheduling overtime.  While not mandatory, these types of workplace policies ensure uniformity and consistency in decision-making and operational procedures.  Workplace policies can also play a primary role in establishing or confirming the expectations that employers place on their employees, in areas such as fitness for work or impairment and appropriate business expenses and reimbursement procedures.  Breaches of these types of policies can lead to discipline, up to and including termination in specified circumstances.

While certain policies are not strictly required – though still beneficial – others are legally mandatory.  Workplace harassment policies fall under the category of those policies which are mandated by law, though many employers do not realize the legal obligation to develop and implement this type of policy.

In Saskatchewan, section 36 of The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, 1996, RRS c O-1.1 Reg 1 (the “Regulations”) requires an employer to develop a written harassment prevention policy, which must include a number of components, such as:

  • A definition of the term “harassment”;
  • A statement that every worker is entitled to a workplace free from harassment, and a corresponding commitment by the employer to take every reasonably practicable effort to prevent harassment;
  • A description of the procedure to be used for any harassment complaint; and,
  • References to both The Saskatchewan Employment Act and The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, noting a complainant’s right to file a complaint pursuant to both of those statutes.

While many employers understand the value of developing and implementing a suite of policies respecting the workplace, not all appreciate the legal requirement to have a harassment policy, or the specific provisions which must be included.  Importantly, the legal obligation to develop and implement a harassment policy applies regardless of the type of work performed, or the number of employees in a workplace.  Moreover, it is important to understand that employees who consider themselves subject to harassment in the workplace are entitled to file an occupational health and safety complaint pursuant to provincial legislation, which engages an investigatory process by an outside party: an occupational health and safety officer employed by the government.

In 2018, the issue of workplace harassment in Saskatchewan, especially with respect to rural municipalities throughout the province, received considerable media scrutiny.  In October 2018, the CBC reported that a number of municipalities did not have harassment policies in place, due to a professed lack of resources and a dearth of complaints.  Yet employers who fail to develop and implement harassment policies are in breach of The Saskatchewan Employment Act and the Regulations.  Importantly, employees who do not have a workplace harassment policy do not have an internal complaint mechanism to engage, which may lead to a toxic work environment, complaints to the Occupational Health & Safety Division with the Ministry of Labour, and/or a failure to attract and retain qualified and competent individuals.

Not only is it the law to establish and implement a workplace harassment policy, but employers must appreciate the value and benefit that comes with developing and implementing this type of policy.  A respectful workplace that is free from harassment is a commitment that all should share.

If you are an employer who would like assistance with developing or updating a workplace harassment policy, please be in touch.

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