Bill a 'crucial turning point' in government's bid to improve worker safety

Lawyer says province's proposal is a 'comprehensive' push for change in 2024

Bill a 'crucial turning point' in government's bid to improve worker safety

In 2024, Quebec could pass Bill 42 - "an Act to prevent and fight psychological harassment and sexual violence in the workplace." It was tabled November 23 and will now go through the provincial process of becoming law.

The primary goal is “to prevent on-site psychological harassment and sexual violence in the workplace, protect workers, and ensure the proper prevention and compensation for related injuries," says, Sarah-Émilie Dubois a senior associate at Dentons Canada specializing in occupational health and safety law.

She says it represents a significant step forward in addressing workplace harassment and violence. "This bill marks a crucial turning point in the government’s efforts to create safer workplaces. It's designed to protect the dignity and well-being of workers while streamlining the compensation process for those who have suffered from workplace-related sexual violence."

One of the key aspects of Bill 42 is its focus on addressing gaps in Quebec's existing legislation, particularly regarding compensation for workplace-related injuries arising from sexual violence. Dubois says these gaps primarily concern the ability of workers to demonstrate their injuries are linked to sexual violence occurring in the workplace.

To address these gaps, Bill 42 introduces two key presumptions:

  1. Presumption for sexual violence at workplace: This presumption applies when sexual violence occurs in the workplace, involving a worker, another worker, an employer, or one of the employer's executives. "Under this presumption, an employment injury or disease is presumed to arise out of and in the course of the worker's employment, removing the burden of demonstrating causation from the worker."
  2. Presumption for Diseases Due to Sexual Violence: This broader presumption applies to diseases resulting from sexual violence, even when the violence is not directly related to the workplace but involves a customer or other third party. According to Dubois, "Any disease arising within three months after the worker suffers sexual violence is presumed to be an employment injury, simplifying the compensation process for victims."

When asked about the timing of this bill, Dubois explains that it follows a significant reform in health and safety legislation two years ago. With most of those changes already in place, the government is now focusing on ensuring employers take responsibility for preventing workplace-related injuries, including those resulting from sexual violence. Bill 42's provisions compliment this approach by emphasizing the need for employers to take measures to prevent and address harassment sexual violence in the workplace.

Regarding the impact on workers, especially women, Dubois believes that while the bill is still in the early stages of discussion, it has the potential to benefit all workers, as workplace harassment and sexual violence affect people of all genders. She notes, "this bill represents a comprehensive effort to create a safer and more inclusive work environment. It underscores the government's commitment to protecting the rights and well-being of workers."

As for the timeline for Bill 42 becoming law, Dubois suggests that the bill will likely go through committee discussions in February or March, with a possible implementation date in October next year. However, this timeline is subject to change as the legislative process unfolds.