Important Changes and Proposed Amendments to Manitoba’s Workplace Safety and Health Act Legislation

On June 18, 2010, the Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health Amendment Act was amended to increase the maximum fines that may be imposed for contravening the Act. Specifically, the fine for a first offence has been increased to $250,000 from $150,000, and the fine for a second or subsequent offence has increased to $500,000 from $300,000.

In addition, employers in Manitoba need to be aware of upcoming changes to the Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health Regulations which come into effect on February 1, 2011. These changes impose a new obligation on employers to protect workers from psychological harassment in the workplace. Specifically, the definition of "harassment" has been expanded to include a direct reference to severe conduct that adversely affects a worker’s psychological or physical well-being. Psychological harassment is considered "severe" if it could reasonably cause a worker to be humiliated or intimidated and is repeated, or, in the case of a single occurrence, has a lasting, harmful effect on a worker. Normal and reasonable management actions, including discipline, are not defined as psychological harassment.

Finally, employers in Manitoba should be aware of a proposed Bill that contains amendments to the Workplace Safety and Health Act which may impose new obligations on employers with respect to workplace violence and harassment. Bill 219, the Workplace Safety and Health Amendment Act (Harassment and Violence in the Workplace), was originally scheduled to come into force on January 1, 2011. Although this Bill has not yet been passed, it contains several proposed amendments that employers should be aware of in light of the increased awareness surrounding harassment and violence in the workplace.

Manitoba employers are required to prepare and post written policies dealing with workplace violence and harassment in the workplace, and they must provide training to workers and supervisors on how to report, investigate and deal with incidents of workplace-related harassment or workplace violence. In addition, employers are already required to identify and assess the risk of violence in the workplace. Bill 219 goes further and states that workers must be notified of the results of such assessments, and the employer must provide any written copies of the assessment on request, or must advise workers how to obtain copies. Bill 219 also proposes that employers be required to take reasonable precautions to protect workers from domestic violence in situations where the employer is aware, or ought to be aware, that domestic violence is likely to expose a worker to harassment or physical injury in the workplace.

What Should Employers Do?

In light of the upcoming changes to the Workplace Safety and Health Regulations, employers are advised to review their current policies and procedures and consider how to address issues of violence and harassment in the workplace. For example, employers should:

  • review existing workplace violence and harassment policies and ensure that they take into account employer obligations relating to psychological harassment, and train employees and all supervisors on such policies;
  • advise employees how to report instances or risks of workplace violence and harassment, including psychological harassment;
  • continue to undertake risk assessments to determine the possibility or prevalence of workplace violence or harassment, and consider disclosing the results of these assessments to workers;
  • ensure that proper security measures are in place at the workplace to protect workers from workplace violence or harassment;
  • keep detailed records of any workplace violence or harassment, investigation or work refusal; and
  • monitor the progress of Bill 219 for additional changes.