Compliance With Bill 168 Takes More Than Just A Policy
By: Paddi Riopelle CHRP, HR Off-Site Human Resources Solutions
Bill 168 is an amendment to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act that was designed to reduce workplace violence and harassment. While licensed child care centres are not generally considered a high-risk environment, they are employers and are therefore obligated to comply with the legislation. While many licensed child care centres have already taken steps to ensure their existing workplace policy manuals are revised to include procedures for reporting, investigating and responding to incidents of violence or harassment, it takes more than just a carefully worded policy to achieve full compliance with Bill 168. The Ministry of Labour views compliance as having a program in place that covers policies and procedures, trains employees and demonstrates the knowledge that the employer has on the risks of violence in his or her workplace.
Assessing & Minimizing Your Risk
As an employer, you have a responsibility to do a comprehensive inventory of the sources of risk your employees face. All licensed child care programs face some level of risk simply due to the fact that they deal with children, most of their employees are women, and their facilities open and close at times when passersby and traffic may be at a minimum. Another point of risk may be the location of your facility and its proximity to other establishments such as banks or bars. Take a walk through and around your facility and in the neighbourhood nearby, with an eye to potential sources of violence. Jot down your observations and consider measures you could take to address each problem area. Also, be sure to look at any history of incidents in your workplace and benchmark your program to your industry as a whole.
Other sources of risk could include parents, who may be involved in emotionally charged situations such as custody disputes, job losses, and so forth. Review your files and try to understand each family's situation. Be sure to consult with your staff team to make sure there aren't any additional risk factors that you may have overlooked. You should also consult with other licensed child care owner/operators to make sure your policies are similar to theirs
Additionally, you'll need to review your staff records and to ascertain if anyone on your staff team may be a source of risk. Since workers in licensed child care are required to have a valid criminal reference check prior to employment, the risks in this regard are more likely to be the result of medical conditions or domestic partners than from an individual employee's predisposition to violence. No matter the source of the risk, you need to be able to demonstrate that you have done everything within your power to identify it and to take reasonable action to mitigate it.
Some mitigation measures are obvious, such as ensuring that facility doors are kept locked during the day. However, you may also need to use more subtle measures as well, such as having a centre code of conduct for all parents and staff that requires them to serve as positive role models for the children—ie: no profanity, no yelling, no talking about people behind their backs, etc. These types of things as well as many others need to be articulated in your Violence and Harassment Prevention Policies and Procedures. Because things are always changing, your violence and harassment prevention program needs ongoing monitoring and updating. Regular reviews show you how well your program is working and help identify any necessary changes.
Policies & Procedures
To some extent, the specifics of your Violence and Harassment Prevention Policies and Procedures will be dictated by the risk factors you've identified. Regardless of the specifics, your workplace violence policies and procedures need to be in writing (for workplaces with more than five employees), known to all employees and be readily accessible to all staff, should they need to refer to them. It is particularly important that you outline what the process is for staff to report their concerns and to whom they should report them. They also need to know such reports will be held in confidence. Additionally, your policy should spell out that it is everyone's duty to report their concerns, even if they are not the victim. This is especially important in suspected cases of domestic violence. Each member of your staff team needs to know the signs and be prepared to report them. Managers and supervisors need to understand and to be able to communicate what community resources are available to support the victim.
Your policy manual also needs to be clear about how matters will be investigated and who is responsible for conducting and recording the findings of the investigation. It's a good idea to designate someone to serve as the workplace harassment and violence prevention coordinator and to have someone trained in how to conduct workplace investigations. The same person can perform both roles.
Staff training regarding Bill 168 and the prevention of workplace violence and harassment includes everyone, but is absolutely essential for anyone with supervisory responsibilities. More specifically, your centre needs to establish an in-house program and protocol for dealing with potential sources of workplace violence and harassment. There are actually benefits to doing this that go beyond simply making your workplace safer. By making it clear that things like gossiping are unacceptable in your workplace, you may even notice reduced staff stress levels and absenteeism.
There are a number of provisions in Bill 168 that may pose risks for employers. The area of domestic violence is one of them. Another is the area of requirement to disclose potential risks posed by an employee with a history of violence while maintaining confidentiality. Parts of Bill 168 seem to be in conflict with privacy-related decisions by the Human Rights Commission. It is likely that these conflicts will ultimately be adjudicated through the court system. To be certain that your Violence and Harassment Prevention Policies and Procedures are adequately detailed and appropriate for your situation, always have them reviewed by a Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) or a lawyer who specializes in labour law.
Paddi Riopelle is the President of HR Off-Site, a human resources consulting firm that specializes in practical, affordable solutions for small businesses. She was also one of the featured speakers at the ADCO 2010 Spring Conference. You may contact her directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org.