Federal Government Introduces Legislation to Address Violence and Harassment in the Workplace

  • May 10, 2018
  • Matthew Craig

In the wake of the #MeToo campaign, which has grown to include several shocking revelations of sexual harassment on Parliament Hill, the Government of Canada has introduced Bill C-65 – An Act to amend  the Canada Labour Code (harassment and violence), the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1 (the “Bill” or “Bill C-65”).

Bill C-65 was introduced to Parliament in November of 2017 amid a flurry of high-profile sexual harassment complaints that embroiled Hollywood at the time. Second reading of the Bill occurred on January 29, 2018 – shortly after several allegations of sexual harassment rocked Canada’s political landscape, including, most notably, allegations concerning then Ontario Conservative Leader Patrick Brown. Brown resigned from his post as Ontario Conservative Leader on January 24, 2018. Still, the Federal Liberal party maintains that the Bill is the result of a campaign promise delivered in 2015 and not the result of heightened political pressure.

Broadly speaking, Bill C-65 seeks to address the issue of harassment and violence in the workplace, including sexual harassment and violence, by bringing those issues under the umbrella of occupational health and safety and by creating further obligations on federally regulated employers with respect to adequately addressing and preventing such occurrences as well as providing support to victims.

Currently, the Canada Labour Code (the “Code”) mandates only that federally regulated employers have a policy in place with respect to sexual harassment and that instances of workplace violence are dealt with in accordance with the regulations. In contrast, the Bill will streamline and clarify the process for dealing with both violence and harassment, including those instances of a sexual nature, by introducing several new obligations on affected employers. Notably, the Bill will include the following amendments to the Code:

  • The addition of “physical or psychological injuries and illnesses” as a preventative purpose of Part II of the Code.
  • A specific duty on employers to “investigate, record and report… all occurrences of harassment or violence” in accordance with the regulations.
  • A specific duty on employers to:
    • take the prescribed measures with respect to harassment and violence in the work place; and
    • to respond to occurrences of harassment and violence in the work place; and
    • to offer support to employees affected by harassment and violence.
  • The exclusion of complaints relating to harassment and violence from the internal investigation process as set out in the Code’s Internal Complaint Resolution Process.

The “prescribed measures” currently in effect include an obligation on federally regulated employers to appoint a competent person to investigate and report on the incident and to make recommendations to the employer if the employer is unable to resolve the matter directly with the complainant.

A “competent person” is currently defined in the regulations as someone who is (a) impartial or seen to be impartial, (b) has knowledge, training and experience in issues relating to workplace harassment and violence, and (c) has knowledge of relevant legislation.

The Bill will also extend these protections to Parliamentary employees through Part II of the Bill, which incorporates by reference certain sections of the Canada Labour Code, including the provisions dealing with harassment and violence.

The Bill is currently before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

In recent news, the Bill has received as much publicity for what was not included in the original draft than what was included.  Notably, the Second Reading of the Bill did not include a definition of harassment and violence.  By all accounts, the addition of a specific definition for harassment and violence and the breadth of the language used was one of the more contentious political issues surrounding the Bill.

Notwithstanding, the Committee’s most recent report to the House on April 23, 2018 included the following addition to section 122(1) of the Code:

harassment and violence means any action, conduct or comment, including of a sexual nature, that can reasonably be expected to cause offence, humiliation or other physical or psychological injury or illness to an employee, including any prescribed action, conduct or comment; (harcèlement et violence)”

It remains to be seen what, if any, changes are forthcoming or when the Bill will take effect. Accordingly, affected parties would be well advised to take stock of their current rights and obligations and to remain up-to-date on the progress of the Bill. This will ensure affected parties are prepared to adequately prevent, address and resolve workplace harassment and violence once those rights and obligations are finalized. 


Matt Craig is an Associate with Mathews Dinsdale’s Toronto office where he practises in all areas of labour and employment law. His experience includes advising provincially and federally regulated employers on grievances and arbitrations; collective bargaining; labour board applications; union organizing; wrongful dismissal actions; human rights applications; and workplace health and safety prosecutions.