WHEREAS the term “domestic violence” is now included in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), requiring employers to address domestic violence; and
WHEREAS the OHSA requires employers to be responsible for the “social well-being” of employees;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta request that the Government of Alberta define what is meant by “social well-being” of an employee within the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the responsibilities of an employer with regard to “domestic violence or suspicion of domestic violence” within the OHSA.
Recent changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) have done little to ensure the safety of the workers other than to muddy the waters. Making employers responsible for the “social well-being” of workers is not defined. What does “social well-being” mean and what role if any should an employer be legislated to do? If an employee has had an incident off the work site unrelated to the job, when does the employer go from being responsible to address the matter to being a snoop? Is it the job of an employer to embed themselves in the private lives of its employees? If an incident clearly affects the employee’s work, there is already opportunity for an employee to ask the employer for access to help such as an Employee’s Assistance Plan. An employer is already required to allow time off for employees to seek counselling for family matters, addictions or health issues.
Is it the duty of employers to become involved in incidents of “domestic violence” outside of the work environment? There is a wealth of external support agencies committed and trained to address the issue of “domestic violence”. Why should this fall to the employer, who is not trained in this field? The lack of clarity of the changes to OHSA as to what, where and when an employer should embed the organization in the private lives of its employees leaves the organization at risk.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
The new Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and changes to the Code came into effect June 1, 2018, and defines “health and safety” as including physical, psychological and social well-being. This requires workplaces to deal with hazards to physical health and safety, as well as hazards to psychological and social well-being, including harassment and violence. The definition of “violence” in the updated OHSA includes domestic violence.
While social well-being is included in the new definition of “health and safety” in the OHSA, it is not separately defined in that Act. Generally, social well-being is an element of mental health involving relationships that contribute to an overall state of well-being where an individual can work productively.
Regarding domestic violence, when an employer becomes aware that a worker is, or is likely to be, exposed to domestic violence at the work site, the employer is required to protect the worker and any other person at the work site likely to be affected.
Domestic violence becomes a workplace hazard and is no longer limited to a personal issue, when it occurs or spills over into the workplace, or there is reason to believe that it could occur at the workplace. It may put the targeted worker at risk and may pose a threat to co-workers. The employer must inform workers on site of the threat of potential violence while preserving privacy as much as possible.
To reduce the hazard, employers can take steps such as removing the worker involved from public view and enhancing security measures. Employers may wish to contact external support agencies with domestic violence expertise to determine their best approach and steps. The OHSA does not intend for employers to become involved in their workers’ personal lives.
The Government of Alberta response indicates that although “social well-being” is now included in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), it is not specifically defined. As monitoring and identifying risks to social well-being can often be much more difficult than physical aspects of health and safety, employers (including municipalities) may face significant difficulties in balancing the need to be aware of situations which may compromise social well-being with the need to respect the privacy of their employees, even within the workplace. For employers to effectively monitor the social well-being of their employees, further guidance is needed from the Government of Alberta.
The Government of Alberta response is effective in clarifying how domestic violence is linked to the workplace and employer. Clarifying that this is a valid consideration in health and safety planning will help to support safe workplaces. However, like the comment above, guidance on how municipalities can appropriately monitor their workplace for risks of domestic violence without infringing on employee property would be appreciated.
RMA assigns this resolution a status of Accepted in Part, and will continue to advocate on greater clarity around defining “social well-being.”