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Organization Fails to Meet Occupational Health & Safety Standard for Incidents of Workplace Violence

In Ontario Public Service Employees Union, LOCAL 548 v Cota Health, a not-for-profit organization was found in breach of Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) for a failure to provide protection from harassment and violence in the workplace.

The organization provides support to persons with mental health challenges. The Grievor was a case manager. The grievance involved incidents concerning two clients: one client sent text messages about raping the Grievor; another client assaulted the Grievor.

Threatening Messages

The Grievor saw the text messages, and reported it to her manager. The client was barred from having contact with the Grievor and was to not attend drop-ins. However, the client did attend the drop-ins on at least two more occasions.

The Arbitrator found that the organization cannot monitor client private communications and there were no reasonable precautions the organization might have taken to protect the Grievor from the impact of the messages. However, the organization had failed to ensure the client did not attend drop-ins, and therefore failed to protect the workplace.

Physical Assault

The Grievor had met with another client numerous times, during which the client displayed aggressive behaviors, and was reminded by the Grievor to respect her personal space. During a home visit, the client pushed the Grievor in the chest with enough force for her to lose her balance. The manager was informed of the incident.

The Grievor had previously raised concerns about the client. The manager had recommended the Grievor have joint meetings with another staff member, did not confirm this was followed, and the Grievor did not comply. The organization did have an option to refuse work due to safety concerns. The Grievor was aware of the policy on work refusal.

The Arbitrator found issuing policies or precautions, but not inquiring into compliance is insufficient to meet OHSA obligations. The organization was not taking all reasonable precautions. Its “sole failing in relation to its obligations under the collective agreement and clause 25(2)(h) of the OHSA was in failing to ensure that its designated precaution was complied with” (para 113).

Why This Case is Important

This case serves as a reminder that, in addition to implementing policies and precautions, to ensure workplace safety, employers should also monitor compliance with such policies and precautions. A declaration that an organization had failed to meet its obligations under OHSA, to protect workers from workplace violence, is serious. Occupational Health and Safety legislation is the legal framework for maintaining safe workplaces. Organizations that do not comply with their responsibilities under these Acts risk enforcement, including orders and injunctions, as well as union grievances with potential damage awards.

Failure to adequately protect workers from workplace violence may have serious consequences, for both the worker and the employer.