Ensuring a healthy and safe work environment - Retail Council of Canada
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Ensuring a healthy and safe work environment

January 14, 2019
Ensuring a healthy and safe work environment

There are a variety of unwanted behaviors that can occur in a workplace ranging from offensive remarks to violence. The way in which companies respond to and manage these issues is critical to avoid risks.


RETAIL is about people. It’s about the customers who enter retail establishments. And it’s about the hard-working employees who provide those customers with the service and expertise that sets the industry apart from others. So, it should come as no surprise that protecting the retail environment against the threats of violence and harassment is a top priority for retailers operating in Canada.

Canadian Retailer recently sat down with Kate McNeill-Keller, Partner with McCarthy Tétrault, to understand the threats of violence and harassment in the retail workplace and the steps that retailers should take in order to ensure a healthy and safe environment for their customers and employees.

Canadian Retailer: How does violence and harassment, or the threat of violence and harassment, affect the workplace?

Kate McNeill-Keller: There are multiple buckets of risk that are created as a result of violence or harassment in the workplace. The most important risk is the human risk and the harm that these kinds of behaviours can cause to individual employees and customers and other members of the community who may be engaged in a workplace environment both in terms of physical harm and psychological harm. The second bucket is the legal harm that employers may have to deal with, from litigation by an employee to investigations that are conducted internally or by external bodies like the Ministry of Labour. And then there’s the potential harm to security. Although these are workplace issues, because they sometimes happen in a bricks and mortar retail setting, they may incidentally involve and impact members of the community. And then, overarchingly, there’s the reputational risk for a retailer with respect to the perception, whether accurate or not, that the retailer doesn’t protect its workplace and workers or promote a healthy and safe environment to work, shop or engage.



CR: How important is it for retailers to understand how to identify these behaviours and to be armed with the proper knowledge, skills and strategies to respond to them?

M-K: It’s extremely important and always has been. Employers have a statutory obligation to make sure that there are programs and a policy in place to prevent and manage of violence and harassment in the workplace under legislation like the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Human Rights Code. Part of that obligation is to train and educate employees regarding company expectations around workplace conduct. Training managers and frontline supervisors concerning their responsibilities and ways to identify and address concerns that are occurring within the workplace is also critical.

CR: For retailers that are interested in developing a culture of safety and a harassment-free environment, what do you recommend they do to take necessary steps toward these improvements?

M-K: Do an audit to figure out where your gaps are. Do you have a policy that addresses these issues? Do you have a program that corresponds with that policy? What steps have you already taken to address these issues? Then do an audit of the experience you offer as an employer. What’s the nature of your environment? Do you have bricks and mortar locations? What’s your experience with these issues? Is there a reporting structure? Are there real or perceived barriers to reporting of incidents? It’s like a risk/ hazard assessment, assessing it through the lens of conduct. Once these audits are complete and information’s been gathered, it’s easier to fill any gaps that might exist