November 30, 2017

Recent news reports have highlighted the frequency of violence against health care workers and teachers by patients and students under their care, but almost every worker faces the possibility that a customer, client, or member of the public they serve will become physically violent or verbally abusive. In this session, legal specialists will explore the scope of an employer’s legal duty to prevent third party violence against employees, the rights and duties of workers in such circumstances, and the union’s role in preventing this type of violence.

  • Proactive policies, practices and responses: Should workplace violence policies and programs make special provision for dealing with customers, clients or patients who harass, threaten, or become violent with employees? In what circumstances are employers required to advise employees about a potentially violent patient/student/customer/client? What is the scope of an employee’s duty to report concerns about a patient/student/customer/client? How should employers respond to worker statements or reports of verbal abuse or physical violence at the hands of a patient/student/customer/client? How should union representatives respond?
  • Protecting employees: What legal recourse is available to employers to protect workers from an abusive or violent customer or client? What concrete steps can an employer take to ensure the safety of workers and reduce potential exposure to liability? What should unions do?
  • Potential liability and legal recourse: Under what circumstances might an employer face quasi-criminal charges under occupational health and safety legislation for failure to prevent a customer or patient attack on an employee? What about criminal charges? Does workers’ compensation coverage for injuries arising out of and in the course of employment protect employers from civil liability? In what circumstances should a union grieve an employer’s failure to protect employees from client or patient violence? When should the union pursue remedies through the Ministry of Labour/the Labour Relations Board? What remedies can unions seek in these forums? In what circumstances could an employer be held liable for patient/student/customer/client verbal abuse or harassment of an employee?
  • Work refusals: In what circumstances can workers refuse to work on the basis that they believe customers/clients/students will physically injure them? Are there any circumstances in which workers who are excluded from the general right to refuse unsafe work under occupational health and safety legislation (e.g. police officers, firefighters, correctional officers, and health care workers) can refuse unsafe work on the basis that they believe that a patient/client/etc. poses a danger?