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Q&A - Background Checks
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"Does legislation about preventing violence in the workplace mean that we should be doing extensive background checks on all applications for volunteer positions?"


No – that is not the intent of the legislation.

Bill 168, the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment (Violence and Harassment in the Workplace), became law in 2010. The legislation directs employers to create and maintain a safe and healthy workplace. It applies to volunteers because it applies to everyone in the workplace.

This amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) does increase the obligations of employers to prevent workplace violence and harassment, but it does not require the employer to proactively investigate the background of applicants for positions in your organization.

It does require the employer to proactively assess the risks of workplace violence that may arise from the nature of the workplace, the type of work or the condition of work, and modify risky environmental factors as necessary based on the assessment.

Workplace violence means:

  • The exercise of physical force that causes or could cause physical injury
  • An attempt to exercise physical force that could cause physical injury
  • A statement or behaviour that could be reasonably interpreted as a threat to exercise physical force that could cause physical injury.

Workplace harassment means engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known, or ought reasonably to be known, as unwelcome. It may include bullying, intimidating or offensive jokes or innuendos, displaying or circulating offensive pictures or materials, or offensive or intimidating phone calls.

Communicating your organization’s policies and procedures to staff and volunteers is absolutely key to ensuring a safe and healthy work environment – so that everyone knows what is acceptable and what the protocol is when something is unacceptable.

For more information, including compliance guidelines, toolboxes, and templates, go to the Ministry of Labour’s web site at

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