OTTAWA — The Liberal government wants its proposed stricter rules to crack down on harassment in federal workplaces to reflect the fact that colleagues no longer restrict their interactions to daytime hours at the office.
"We know that those boundaries are very blurry and especially in workplaces like ours," Labour Minister Patty Hajdu said Monday after appearing before the House of Commons human resources committee to discuss her proposed legislation to support safe federal workplaces.
She said many of the jobs that will fall under Bill C-65, including those on Parliament Hill, involve after-hours receptions, lunches, emails and social media exchanges where the same preventive measures and policies should apply.
"The harassment, if they're experiencing harassment, may not stop at five o'clock," Hajdu said.
"It is really about the behaviour between colleagues or between employer and employee, less so than the hours of work or the place of work, because all of those things create an unsafe workplace," she said. "If you're getting unwanted drunk texts at two in the morning, the last thing you want to do is go to the work the next morning and go 'Hey, how's it's going, Bob?'"
Hajdu said leaving the definition of harassment to the regulations, rather than the legislation, will allow it to be flexible enough to speedily address new frontiers such as cyberbullying or other behaviour that develops with the changing nature of the workplace.
The legislation, introduced last fall, is aimed at giving workers and employers a clear course of action to better deal with allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct.
The proposed changes would merge separate labour standards for sexual harassment and violence, subjecting them to the same scrutiny and dispute resolution process, which could mean bringing in an outside investigator to review allegations.
The new rules would also bring parliamentary staff under the Canada Labour Code for the first time.
Once passed, the legislation would also allow anyone unhappy with how a dispute is being handled to complain to the labour minister, who could step in to investigate and order sanctions for employers — including naming and shaming them in the House of Commons or Senate.
Lori Sterling, the deputy minister of labour at Employment and Social Development Canada, told the committee she expects the greater powers the legislation would give to the department would come with an increased number of complaints and investigations, but could not predict how many.
Hajdu said the department, which currently has 453 investigators who will be receiving updated training on harassment, can handle the added workload.
"We're confident that we have the resources in place and that we will be able to have the resources necessary to do full justice to the legislation," said Hajdu.
The minister said she would like to see Bill C-65, which was fast-tracked through the House of Commons last month, become law by June.
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Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press