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Violence in the workplace

Increasingly news reports show that violence in the workplace is a real problem facing workers and employers today.

Canadian federal and provincial law and legislation has policies in place aiming to reduce and prevent violence in the workplace.

What is workplace violence?

Workplace violence is defined in the Canadian Labour Code as “any action, conduct, threat or gesture of a person towards an employee in their work place that can reasonably be expected to cause harm, injury or illness to that employee."

Under the British Columbia Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, violence is defined as “the attempted or actual exercise by a person, other than a worker, of any physical force so as to cause injury to a worker, and includes any threatening statement or behaviour which gives a worker reasonable cause to believe that he or she is at risk of injury.”      

The point here is that violence at the workplace usually involves either actual physical violence or threats and other threatening gestures that may make an employee think their physical well-being is in danger.

What duties do employers have when it comes to workplace violence?

They have a duty to prevent workplace violence but if it occurs they have to deal with it properly.

The Canadian Labour Code, as well as the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations spell out what steps federally regulated employers have to take to deal with workplace violence.

Those steps include:

  • Developing a policy;
  • Identifying contributing factors;
  • Assessing those factors;
  • Choosing controls and prevention measures;
  • Responding to occurrences; and
  • Ensuring employee education and training.

Violence in the workplace is not just between employees but can also occur between an employee and a non-employee, such as a customer.

Provincial legislation is also very stern on employer’s duties when it comes to workplace violence.

For example, under the Occupational Health and Safety General Regulations of Prince Edward Island, employers must conduct a “risk assessment” of the workplace to find out whether there is a threat of violence in the workplace.

The employer also has to create and maintain policies, procedures and rules in the work environment to lessen workplace violence. Furthermore, the act spells out that if there is a risk of violence at the workplace, the employer has a duty to inform his or her employees. The risk assessment and employee information requirement is usually a feature of the occupational health and safety legislation of many other provinces and territories.

How must an employer deal with workplace violence when it has occurred?

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Nova Scotia, an employer must “promptly investigate” the occurrence and also take action to ensure there will be no re-occurrence of the incident of violence.

However, that doesn’t mean that employees don’t have duties of their own when it comes to workplace violence. If an employee has experienced an incident(s) of workplace violence then he or she must report it to their employer.

There are professions which can be in more danger of workplace violence than others such as in cases where workers face a lot of customers or clients on a daily basis. It is especially important for those employers to make sure that workplace prevention policies are in place and that employees are aware of those policies and what to do in case of a violent incident.

If you have experienced workplace violence report it to your employer. Should your employer not act accordingly, consult a lawyer.

Read more:

Guide to Violence Prevention in the Workplace

Violence in the Workplace