Are your Supervisors your weakest link?

When designing a Workplace Violence and Harassment program, employers often forget that supervisors play a special role in  workplaces are free from harassment and human rights code violations.  What special role do supervisors play?  How can you help them to be the strongest link?

Section 27 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) defines the role of the supervisor.  Their responsibilities are to ensure the provisions of the Act and the policies defined by the employer are carried out in the workplace.

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC), a person in a position of leadership can be viewed the same as the employer. Their actions subject the organization to the same sanctions under the OHRC as an employer. 

Along with these important legal considerations, your supervisors are the important link between workers and an organization’s senior leadership.  Effective supervisors drive the culture and vision of the organization, improving productivity and employee engagement.

How do you strengthen the effectiveness of your supervisors in relation to your Respect in the Workplace program?


1. Define the roles and responsibilities of a supervisor and manager in your policy

When I investigate an allegation of harassment in the workplace, I often hear that the issue was reported to the claimant’s supervisor but was not reported to a more senior manager.  When I review the Workplace Violence and Harassment policy, there are no specific duties for the supervisor to carry out and so they often do nothing.

2. Ensure your supervisors know your policies.

The OHSA requires you provide training to employees on your Workplace Violence and Harassment policy.  Do you provide training to your supervisors so that they know their specific role?  The OHSA specifically outlines supervisors’ responsibility to ensure workers are carrying out the requirements of the Act – so they need to be very well trained on all your workplace Health and Safety policies.

3. Train supervisors on their roles

Supervisors are in that “no-man’s” land between worker and senior management.  Their authority is often unclear and their loyalties similarly blurred.  Ensure their roles are defined and reinforce this with regular training opportunities. 

4. Make sure your supervisors know the Ontario Human Rights Code and its application in the workplace

Many managers and supervisors are not as familiar with the OHRC.  Can you name all the protected grounds relating to employment (hint:  there are 13)?  Much of the humour that was traditional in the workplace violates the OHRC.  Supervisors are in the best place to shut down humour or other comments that violate workers’ human rights before they escalate into situations which cause harm in the workplace.


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Learn more about how Coact can be your Respect in the Workplace Advisor through our Workplace Investigations and Workplace Mediation services.

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