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A Win for Canadian Employees: Global Treaty on Ending Workplace Harassment and Violence comes into force

February 10, 2024

On January 30, 2024, the International Labour Organization’s Convention 190 (C190), the Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019, came into force in Canada.

C190 is the first global treaty aimed at ending workplace harassment and violence. It represents an important step forward in protecting the health and well-being of Canadian workers.

C190 affirms that all employees are entitled to a workplace free from harassment and violence. The Convention also addresses workplace culture and highlights the importance of mutual respect and human dignity in fostering safe and healthy workplaces. In addition, the preamble acknowledges the impact that workplace harassment and violence have on workers’ psychological and physical well-being and various other aspects of their lives.

Requirements under C190

Governments that ratify C190 must implement laws, policies and collective bargaining agreements that prohibit, prevent and address workplace harassment and violence. This includes developing accessible tools and training and ensuring that employers have effective means of investigating workplace incidents. 

Each ratifying country must also adopt laws, regulations and policies addressing discrimination in the workplace to ensure that all workers are treated equally.

C190 addresses harassment and violence that occurs during work or that is linked to the workplace. This includes conduct that arises:

  • in the workplace
  • in places where employees take breaks or use sanitary or changing facilities
  • during work-related trips or social events
  • during work-related conversations
  • in the context of employer-provided accommodations
  • while employees commute to and from work

The Convention recognizes that an incident does not need to happen within the workplace for it to be work-related. Canadian workers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity in any interaction linked to work.

As for C190’s scope, the Convention protects workers in all sectors and applies to a wide scope of individuals, including:

  • individuals exercising the authority, duties or responsibilities of the employer
  • individuals in training, including interns and apprentices
  • volunteers
  • job applicants
  • workers who have been terminated

Another step forward for Canadian employees

When asked about C190 coming into force, Canada’s Minister of Labour and Seniors, Seamus O’Regan Jr., said:

No one should face violence or harassment on the job – not in Canada, not anywhere. We joined countries around the world in this Convention to protect workers, and make sure every workplace is safe and respectful. That’s not just a Canadian value. Today, it’s a protected right.

Canada’s ratification of C190 represents an additional measure taken by the federal government to protect Canadian workers. Other notable examples include:

  • the Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations, which came into force in 2021 and strengthened the Canada Labour Code’s protections against workplace harassment and violence
  • the Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention Fund, which has invested $3.5 million annually since 2019 for initiatives that help make workplaces safer for federally regulated employees

Work plays an integral role in Canadians’ lives. While work can be stressful for various reasons, those issues are exacerbated when workers are harassed or experience violence and other forms of improper behaviour. While C190 will help make Canadian workplaces safer, more can always be done to increase employee well-being. Whether that means performing a culture audit or offering training to educate workers and management, employee well-being should always be a primary concern for employers. For that reason, C190 represents a win for Canadian employers and employees alike and a promising sign of things to come.