On November 23, 2023, Bill 42: An Act to prevent and fight psychological harassment and sexual violence in the workplace, was introduced in the National Assembly by the Minister of Labour, Mr. Jean Boulet. The purpose of the bill is to introduce new measures that create a safer and more respectful workplace, offering improved legislative protection for victims of psychological harassment and sexual violence.

The key points of Bill 42 include intensifying employers’ obligation to prevent and stop harassment that targets anyone in the workplace, including customers and suppliers. Also put forward are measures aimed at protecting employees against retaliation following a report relating to harassment, and the inapplicability of amnesty clauses to situations of physical and psychological violence, including those of a sexual nature. Changes are also suggested to facilitate recognition of employment injuries resulting from sexual violence by adding legal presumptions in favor of employees, by extending the time limit for filing a claim, and by awarding punitive damages against employers found personally responsible for intentional and unlawful psychological harassment. 

At the same time, the Administrative Labour Tribunal will have the mandate to set up a specialized team to facilitate the process for victims of harassment or sexual violence. Minister Boulet says that the purpose of this initiative is to prevent such behaviors and to send a clear message that they are unacceptable. Furthermore, elected representatives such as Isabelle Poulet emphasize the importance of such measure for women employees, who are often more affected by these issues.

It should be mentioned that Bill 42 arises from the recommendations of an expert committee consulted by the Minister in February 2022. This committee, chaired by Rachel Cox, examined the remedies against sexual harassment. The recommendations were heavily supported by consultations with various parties. In addition, administrative measures targeting the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) were implemented in September 2023. These measures encompass various aspects such as the recruitment of specialized advisors, the implementation of continuing training for all those involved, the optimization of the processing of applications, and the creation of institutional partnerships with certain organizations.

Bill 42 proposes to amend several laws relating to working conditions and occupational health and safety. Here are the main amendments suggested:

Amendments to the Labour Code:

  • Mandatory training for arbitrators to whom grievances concerning psychological harassment are referred.
  • The parties can apply for a pre-hearing conference for any grievance.

Amendments to the Act respecting industrial accidents and occupational diseases:

  • Addition of legal presumptions to facilitate recognition of an employment injury resulting from sexual violence.
  • Extension of the time limit to file a claim for that type of injury, from six months to two years.
  • Financial responsibility regarding employment injury resulting from sexual violence imputed to the employers of all the units.
  • Clearer rules for the right of access to the worker’s medical record, and creation of specific offences.

Amendments to the Act respecting labour standards:

  • Greater obligations for the employer to prevent psychological harassment from any person in the workplace.
  • Prescribes the minimum content of the policy to prevent and manage situations of psychological harassment that the employer must adopt, and provides that the policy is part of the prevention program.
  • Inapplicability of amnesty clauses to disciplinary measures for misconduct relating to physical or psychological violence, including sexual violence.
  • Provides that it is a prohibited practice for an employer to take reprisals against an employee that has made a report concerning psychological harassment behaviour.
  • Authorizes a mediator to put an end to mediation if they consider, in the circumstances, that their intervention is not useful or appropriate.
  • Possibility for the parties to relieve each other form duty of confidentiality in the settlement of a complaint concerning psychological harassment.
  • Provides that the Administrative Labour Tribunal may order the employer to pay punitive damages to an employee who has been the victim of psychological harassment, even if an employment injury resulted from that harassment.
  • Raises the fines for offences against any provision concerning psychological harassment.

Amendments to the Act respecting labour relations, vocational training and workforce management in the construction industry:

  • Adds conviction for sexual assault to the grounds for disqualification from serving as a representative in certain capacities.

Amendments to the Act respecting occupational health and safety:

  • Introduces the definition of “sexual violence” and gives regulatory powers to determine measures to prevent or put a stop to sexual violence.

Other amendments and final measures:

  • Consequential amendments in several laws regarding, notably, trainees in the workplace and the professional status of artists.

In a context where women are under-represented in certain sectors of activity, while being twice as likely as men to have suffered inappropriate behavior at work according to data recorded by the CNESST, Bill 42 will certainly be welcomed by all parties in the labor market. In short, Bill 42 aims to respond to these issues that are too widespread and sometimes even tolerated, to create a safer and more respectful work environment for everyone. For employers, given the intensification of their obligations in this area, vigilance will be required, and their responsiveness will be tested if information concerning a situation of harassment or sexual violence in their workplace is brought to their attention. 

Cain Lamarre professionals will closely monitor the development of this Bill during the parliamentary work and we will keep you informed if the amendments proposed by the Bill are adopted and implemented.  

Our labour and employment law team is available for any questions – do not hesitate to contact us.