Tuesday 5 February 2013

National Standard on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace

February 5, 2013

The Canadian Standards Association (“CSA”) is a non-profit organization that works in Canada and around the world to develop standards that address real needs, including but not limited to enhancing public safety and health.
Recently, the CSA, the Bureau de normalisation du Qu├ębec and the Mental Health Commission of Canada (“MHCC”) released a national standard on psychological health and safety in the workplace (“Standard”).  The Standard is designed to assist organizations and their employees improve psychological health and safety.   

There have been considerable efforts in recent years to bring awareness to mental health issues in the workplace:  Most notably, anti-bullying legislation found in Ontario’s Occupational Health Safety Act pursuant to Bill 168 and similar legislative amendments in British Columbia and Manitoba and, of course, human rights legislation.  Despite these efforts, an employer’s legal obligations with respect to psychological health and safety are still only partially addressed.  The new Standard provides a framework and step-by-step implementation to ensure psychologically healthy work environments. 
According to MHCC President and CEO Louise Bradley,

"One in five Canadians experience a mental health problem or mental illness in any given year and many of the most at risk individuals are in their early working years. Canadians spend more waking hours at work than anywhere else.  It's time to start thinking about mental well-being in the same way as we consider physical well-being, and the Standard offers the framework needed to help make this happen in the workplace".
The Standard’s framework allows organizations to develop and sustain a psychologically healthy and safe work environment in the following manner:

  • The identification of psychological hazards in the workplace;
  • The assessment and control of the risks in the workplace associated with hazards that cannot be eliminated (e.g. stressors due to organizational change or reasonable job demands);
  • The implementation of practices that support and promote psychological health and safety in the workplace;
  • The growth of a culture that promotes psychological health and safety in the workplace;
  • The implementation of measurement and review systems to ensure sustainability.
Some of the key steps in implementing a psychologically safe and healthy workplace include, planning, implementation and evaluation and corrective action. 

Although there is no legal requirement to abide by this Standard, there are a number of reasons why employers should do so. First, volunteering compliance could avoid unwanted human rights complaints and occupational health and safety concerns.  Second, the Standard promotes a business’s bottom line: employees who are happy and healthy at work will perform better, remain an asset to an organization and minimize employee turnover.

For more information about the Standard contact the Carvery Law Firm.

By Sumitha Carvery BA(Honours) JD

Carvery Law Professional Corporation
829A Oxford Street | Toronto ON M8Z 0B3
(T) 416.259.3244
(M) 647.444.3244
(F) 416.255.7140

Friday 23 November 2012

What's "Love" Got To Do With It?

Whether it be a tool to escalate the career ladder, a romantic liaison, an extra-marital affair, or a serious and genuine relationship, office romances are a veritable minefield of potential disasters for employers. 

The old adage, “prevention is better than a cure”, is entirely inapplicable to office dalliances. In fact, any attempt to prevent romance in the workplace would ignite flames, rather than smother them, in an otherwise sterile environment. Since any attempt to prohibit office romance is an exercise in futility, employers should make every effort, instead, to regulate it.

Employers bear the burden of governing their employees’ conduct to ensure a harassment free environment. In an era where there is no apparent separation between “work” and “lifestyle”, especially for successful professionals, this is no simple task. 

To avoid embarrassing harassment claims, employers can implement policies outlining a code of conduct and sanctions for breaching this policy.  Demonstrating a no-tolerance approach to harassment through disciplinary sanctions ranging from suspension without pay, up to and including termination, is an effective deterrent.

Including a fair and confidential mechanism for employees to report harassment in the workplace, without feeling unsafe, followed by a thorough investigation into the complaint is fundamental to this process. 

Many employers may wonder what constitutes harassment in the workplace, when it comes to intimate relationships between consenting adults who work together? Canadian courts have addressed this issue and in light of the obvious power disparity between Executives and their subordinates, or supervisors and those that report to them, “consent” is nebulous. For this reason, courts are increasingly intolerant of Executives and/or supervisors who engage in romantic trysts with their subordinates and even more intolerant of the companies that condones this practice.

Employers need a mechanism to govern employee relationships in order to protect the company’s interests. Company interests include ensuring productivity and avoiding conflicts of interest.  As sparks fly between cubicle mates, employees become inattentive to their work, focusing more on their romantic liaison.  Or worse, become disruptive when relationships go awry, as they often do.  Employers should implement and distribute a policy regulating office romance, mandating that office romances should not interfere with the working environment or productivity.

Office romances effect employees who are not directly involved in the affair.  The phrase, “Nobody likes a happy couple” has never been more true than in the employment context.  Office romances can elicit paranoia and jealousy from coworkers who are quick to allege nepotism.   Employers have a duty to investigate these allegations as such conduct constitutes a form of harassment.  By conducting a thorough investigation and implementing corrective measures, employers can avoid a publicized harassment claim.

Employers should do the following:

1.  Devise a comprehensive policy regulating office romances in conjunction with a harassment policy and ensure that all employees are made aware of the policy;

2.  Ensure the policy is clear that intimate relationships between employees should not affect the working environment or productivity;

3.  Prohibit intimate relationships between those employees in a supervisory role and those who report directly to them.  Implement sanctions up to and including termination for those employees who breach this provision;

4.  Mandate that all office romances should be disclosed to Human Resources; and

5.  Investigate all claims of harassment and enforce sanctions for breach of the policy.

For more information about this article or any employment law matter, please contact the Carvery Law Firm.

416.259.3244 (T)


Friday 16 November 2012

Amendments to the Ontario Human Rights Code

On June 15, 2012, the Ontario Human Rights Code celebrated its 50th anniversary.   On the eve of its Golden Jubilee, the Ontario Human Rights Code expanded the scope of its protection by enshrining  “gender identity” and “gender expression” as a protected ground of discrimination.

What does this mean for employers? This significant amendment expands the scope of an employer’s obligation to ensure a harassment free environment.  As a preliminary matter, employers should ensure they have workplace policies in place that capture the scope of this new protected ground of discrimination.  Additionally, employers should be proactive and consider educating employees on issues relating to gender identity and gender expression.  This includes, but is not limited to what it means to be “intersex”, “transsexual”, or “transgender”.  More importantly, employers should take this opportunity to communicate clear expectations regarding appropriate conduct in the workplace. 

How employers shall exercise their  duty to accommodate gender identity and/or gender expression remains to be seen.  Some issues could include but not be limited to the use of, or membership in gender designated facilities and/or social groups.   

Ontario is the first jurisdiction in North America to afford protection to gender expression and gender identity in human rights legislation.  No doubt, this amendment has the potential to transform most workplace cultures. 

*Please contact the Carvery Law Firm should you have any questions regarding the above.