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What's unique in Ontario's new law, known as Bill 168:

While several provinces already have laws requiring workplaces to write policies to protect employees against workplace violence or harassment, Ontario's rules go further, says Janice Rubin, a partner in employment law firm Rubin Thomlinson LLP in Toronto:

1. Employers are required to do an audit of locations in workplaces where employees have a high risk of potential assault.

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2. Employers are required to protect workers from the risk that domestic violence might occur in the workplace.

3. Employers must also advise workers about people with a history of violent behaviour they are likely to encounter in the course of their work.

4. Workers have the right to refuse to work if they believe they are likely to be the target of physical assault.

5. The law requires not just employers but also employees to go through training in respect and prevention of risks of violence at work.

WHAT OTHER PROVINCES DO

Alberta: Employers are required to assess potential risks of workplace violence and train workers in how to minimize risk and get help and report incidents.

British Columbia: Employers must eliminate the risk to employees from violence "insofar as is reasonably possible."

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Manitoba: Employers must assess the risks of violence and harassment and develop preventive policies and train employees to recognize risks.

Nova Scotia: Employers must conduct violence-risk assessments and prepare workplace codes of practice to prevent violence.

Quebec: Employers must take action to prevent "psychological harassment," defined as "repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures that affect an employee's dignity or psychological integrity."

Prince Edward Island: Employers must conduct a violence risk assessment and "eliminate or minimize the risk to employees from violence insofar as possible."

Saskatchewan: Employers must develop policies to combat harassment and minimize risk of violence, inform workers of the nature and extent of risk they face from violence, and provide training in prevention.

Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

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WHY RULES ARE NEEDED

According to experts, workplace anti-harassment and anti-violence rules are needed for two main reasons:

1. Traditionally, human rights laws only protect employees against harassment on the basis of discrimination, for factors such as race, sex or disability. Newer laws cover annoying comments or behaviour that can be interpreted as bullying.

2. Traditionally, workplace safety laws just covered hazards in the workplace. Newer laws specifically address risks of violence.

HOW MUCH OF A PROBLEM?

Jana Raver, a professor at the Queen's University School of Business who is researching workplace harassment, has done a review of 30 Canadian and U.S. studies of harassment in various industries, representing experiences of more than 10,000 employees. She found:

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80: Percentage of respondents who reported at least one incident of harassment in the course of their career.

30: Percentage who reported repeated instances of bullying at some point in their career.

5: Percentage who said they are being bullied in their current job.

WHO ARE HARASSERS?

In a study in progress, Prof. Raver is surveying employees of health care organizations in Ontario:

27: Percentage of employees of said they were harassed by both co-workers and supervisors.

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25: Percentage who said they were harassed only by co-workers.

4: Percentage who said they were harassed only by a supervisor.

DO RULES WORK?

Provincial privacy rules do not require employers to report incidents of violence and harassment in workplaces, so there is little hard evidence of how well preventive laws work. However, falling rates of incidents in provinces that have strengthened rules in recent years suggest workplace policies against violence and harassment do have a measurable effect, experts say:

Manitoba (enacted law in 2007)

17: Percentage of human rights complaints filed about harassment in the workplace in 2007.

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11.5: Percentage of complaints filed in 2008.

9.9: Percentage of complaints filed in 2009.

"Without a clear policy, people are more likely to keep quiet about incidents and not know that they have the power to do anything or will not be taken seriously. A policy really sends a signal that, if you are experiencing harassment, you have rights to fight back, and that people have obligations to respect others in the workplace."

- Dianna Scarth, executive director of Manitoba Human Rights Commission

Quebec (enacted law in 2004)

2,057: Number of employee complaints filed about against "psychological harassment" (bullying) from mid-2004 to mid-2005.

2,682: Number filed, mid-2005 to mid-2006.

2,064: Number filed, mid-2006 to mid-2007.

1,731: Number filed, mid-2007 to mid-2008.

1,561: Number filed, mid-2008 to mid-2009.

"We believe the law has had its intended effect. In the past three years, the numbers of complaints have been steadily dropping and we believe it is because employers and employees now know that harassment is not tolerated in workplaces."

- Commission des normes du travail du Québec spokesman Jean-François Pelchat.

Alberta (enacted law in 2007)

516: Number of violent workplace incidents that required treatment or days off work in 2007.

483: Number of incidents in 2008.

461: Number of incidents in 2009.

"The policies may have actually helped prevent many more incidents that might have occurred or escalated as stress rose during the recession. …Obviously violence and harassment are hugely uncomfortable issues for organizations to bring up. They don't want to admit that incidents can actually happen in their workplace. So putting it into law is a good way to open up a dialogue."

- Ross Arrowsmith, senior corporate security adviser for Workers' Compensation Board-Alberta.

MORE TEETH NEEDED

"Rules are great to have but they are only as good as holding workplace bullies accountable. And so far, the enforcement of provincial rules is basically left up to companies and their human resource departments. If an employer is not willing to enforce the policies and set consequences for harassers, the bad behaviour will continue."

- Calgary-based consultant Valerie Cade, author of Bully Free at Work.

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