Employers in Manitoba may not be aware of recent amendments to regulations to the Workplace Safety and Health Act (the “Act”) which place a number of strict duties on employers relating to the creation, maintenance and enforcement of certain workplace policies. The protection of workers in their employment remains one of the key purposes of the Act. This protection extends not only to the physical safety of employees, but, just as importantly, to their mental health.
Recent trends across Canada indicate strongly that employers are being held increasingly more accountable for taking the required measures to ensure workers are not being unnecessarily exposed to factors which may have an adverse effect on their mental health. In a world where there are new forms of liability around every corner, ensuring that organizational culture is conducive to promoting employee mental health is of paramount importance to employers.
Among the mental health issues that occur are stress, anxiety and depression, all of which can arise as the result of an employer’s failure to prevent occurrences of workplace harassment. Employers are expected to take proactive steps to prevent such occurrences, by actively ensuring the following steps are taken in their workplaces:
- Developing and implementing harassment prevention policies;
- Routinely updating existing policies;
- Educating and training workers in the adherence to policies;
- Providing new employees with policies;
- Publicly posting policies in the workplace; and
- Ensuring compliance by investigating and following up complaints promptly and thoroughly.
The Act and regulations set the minimum standards and define prohibited harassment. Employers who breach the Act or the regulations may be prosecuted and found guilty of an offence. Penalties include fines of up $250.000.00, with even heavier penalties for repeat offences, and imprisonment up to six months, and prohibition from working in a supervising capacity for six months. Officers and directors of the employing Corporation who directed, authorized, assented to or acquiesced in, or participated in the offence are likewise liable to such penalties. Employers are therefore strongly encouraged to look at their existing harassment policies, and to determine whether their current practices are compliant with the law. Looking ahead to anticipate and take steps to prevent potential liability issues is highly important. Employers further need to ensure that new policies and practices are properly implemented and routinely updated as new changes in the law continue to unfold.