Canada Proactive to Prevent Workplace Violence
March 24, 2010
Our neighbors to the north are decades ahead of us in passing legislation to curb workplace violence. Major changes to the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act called Bill 168 create new rules to prevent violence and harassment in the workplace. The bill does not directly address background checks or employment screening, however, another provision obligates an employer to warn employees if its knows, or should know, that a worker could come into contact with a person with a history of violence. (Kind of sounds like the Negligent Hiring Doctrine) How would it know this; the answer is simple, comprehensive screening of their employees.
There were plenty of warning signs of trouble in the months before nurse Lori Dupont’s final shift at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor, Ont.
In February of 2005, she had broken up with Marc Daniel, a 50-year-old married anesthesiologist, after he tried to kill himself. The two had met while working in the hospital, where Dr. Daniel had a history of harassing nurses, both verbally and physically.
When he was released from hospital after his suicide attempt, Dr. Daniel returned to work, where he intimidated and stalked Ms. Dupont, a 36-year-old single mother. He left compromising photos of her on her car and threatened to distribute them. He was suspended, but soon back at work again, on the recommendation of a psychiatrist.
On the morning of Nov. 12, when the pair were on a shift together, Dr. Daniel hid behind a pillar in the recovery room. Minutes later, he stabbed Ms. Dupont to death, plunging a hunting knife into her upper chest and back seven times. He was later found in his car, with a syringe in his arm and no vital signs. He died three days later in the same hospital.
Almost five years later, new workplace violence and harassment rules prompted by Ms. Dupont’s death are set to take effect in Ontario. On June 15, employers in the province will have to comply with the major changes to the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act, contained in amendments known as Bill 168.
Other provinces, including Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, have some comparable legislation, but some legal experts say Ontario’s new rules are vague in places and leave questions that will likely have to be answered in court.
And employment lawyers in Ontario say that with the deadline now less than three months away, many of the province’s corporations are only now coming to grips with the changes.
Under the coming regulations, employers will have to conduct workplace violence risk assessments, draft new policies on workplace violence and harassment, and warn employees if they could be exposed at work to someone with a violent past.
Employees will also have the right to refuse to work if they feel they are at risk of workplace violence.
The reforms also broaden the definition of workplace harassment, which is currently limited to sexist, racist or other comments covered by the Ontario Human Rights Code. Now, harassment will be defined as including “course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.”
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