Few organizations ready for Bill 168, lawyers say

Few Ontario workplaces will have complied with new workplace violence and harassment legislation as it comes into force this week, employment lawyers say.


Bill 168, which amended the Occupational Health and Safety Act, received Royal assent in December. It gave employers six months to comply, but many have left it until too late.


“Employers are having real difficulties with the amount of requirements and they won’t be ready for June 15,” said Meghan Ferguson, who has conducted Bill 168 workshops for clients at Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP.


Doug MacLeod, who is in charge of Bill 168 files for Barrie, Ont., firm Graham Partners LLP, said some employers have no idea about their obligations.


“I suspect many small- and medium-size companies are not aware that Bill 168 is coming into effect in less than two weeks and therefore will not be in a position to comply by June 15,” MacLeod said in an earlier interview.


Lisa Stam of Baker & McKenzie LLP said larger firms with their own human resources departments have a greater awareness about the bill’s requirements but notes even they are struggling to comply.


“Businesses are certainly turning their minds to it now, but I don’t think everyone will have everything ready to go by June 15.” 


The amendments require employers to conduct a risk assessment for violence and harassment in the workplace. They then must develop policies addressing the risks identified and train staff on them.


“I do think most will have started with some of the basics, like getting their policy in place and figuring out how to do the assessment,” Stam said. “Not everyone will have completed their training and the assessment.”


Stuart Rudner, a partner at Miller Thomson LLP, said the proactive approach required by Bill 168 makes it unique but also more susceptible to breaches.


“There are a lot of people out there who think this is another piece of legislation where you can just adopt a wait-and-see approach. Many of them don’t realize that Bill 168 requires positive steps on the part of employers. By waiting and seeing, they’re breaching the legislation.”


Wayne De L’Orme, a provincial co-ordinator with the Ministry of Labour, said he hopes employment lawyers have got it wrong. 


“I’m much more optimistic than most people about the level of compliance when we get to June 15,” he said. “I hope I’m right.”

(More on this Bill 168 story on www.lawtimesnews.com)