Original Article: Emma Graney, Edmonton Journal | May 28, 2018
During her first day on the job at a Whyte Avenue bar in 2002, a patron grabbed Thea Bowering, pulled her towards him, and licked her face.
First, she washed her face.
Next, she went to her then-supervisor, who told her to avoid the man, but offered little else.
That kind of behaviour will be covered under Occupational Health and Safety regulations starting June 1, when Alberta’s laws undergo a monumental shift with respect to harassment.
Beginning Friday, OHS laws will include clear definitions of harassment, including sexual and domestic violence, and increased protection.
Employers will be required to develop violence and harassment prevention plans, investigate complaints and take action to keep employees safe.
If they don’t, businesses can be written up by an OHS officer just like any other kind of workplace hazard.
Anyone who brings forward a complaint will be protected from unfair reprisal, including termination.
Bowering sees the shift as a boon for the bar industry.
Speaking at a news conference in Edmonton on Monday, she said it will create safer workplaces — particularly for young women who often enter the sector with little experience and “have to navigate their safety with piecemeal guidance” — and better experiences for patrons.
“It’s a sector … fraught with misconceptions of what is acceptable behaviour in the workplace and, in general, it’s a world where unpredictable or systemic behaviour and violence has been normalized,” Bowering said.
The changes are part of a larger overhaul of OHS and workers’ compensation laws under the current government, bringing Alberta into line with most other provinces.
Labour Minister Christina Gray called the change “historic.”
“Creating this type of workplace — one that considers, respects and prioritizes the mental, emotional and physical health and safety of the workers — is just good business,” she said Monday.
“Fewer injuries and incidents means less time off work, higher moral and increased productivity. And it’s the right thing to do.”