OTTAWA – A committee of MPs has amended the federal government’s bill aimed at cracking down on harassment in federal workplaces, to include a definition of harassment, among other changes.

After three months of study, the House Human Resources Committee has reported back Bill C-65 to the House of Commons with amendments, including putting into the bill a definition of what constitutes harassment; broadening how complaints can be made; and clarifying various aspects, including making sure both employers and employees receive anti-harassment training.

The proposed legislation, sponsored by Labour Minister Patty Hajdu, is aimed at giving workers and their employers a clear course of action to better deal with allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment, exerting more pressure on companies to combat unacceptable behaviour and punish those who don't take it seriously.

The changes will merge separate labour standards for sexual harassment and violence and subject them to the same scrutiny and dispute resolution process, which could include having an outside investigator brought in to review allegations. The proposed rules would also enforce strict privacy rules to protect the victims of harassment or violence.

One of the reoccurring criticisms of the bill heard by MPs over the course of their study was that the Canada Labour Code was lacking a definition of what constitutes harassment, and so the committee has included one which states:

"Harassment and violence means any action, conduct or comment, including of a sexual nature, that can reasonably be expected to cause offence, humiliation or other physical or psychological injury or illness to an employee, including any prescribed action, conduct or comment."

In addition to several tweaks to wording that have varying impact on the substance of the bill, the committee agreed to clarify that employees and employers will receive workplace harassment and violence prevention training.

As well, the committee amended the bill to state that a victim's complaint can be submitted either in writing, or verbally; and created a new stipulation that the law will be reviewed every five years, and reported back to Parliament by the minister responsible with statistical data related to harassment and violence in the workplace.

Among the unsuccessful amendments proposed by Conservative and NDP members of the committee, were efforts to include more specific language stating that harassment and violence can be either repeated or isolated incidents; and to have the labour minister act as an intermediary in cases involving small businesses employing 20 or fewer people.

In January, amid a conversation about #MeToo on Parliament Hill, MPs unanimously agreed to fast-track the bill into committee after a few hours of debate. As part of its study the committee held special private sessions in which they heard from people who have personally experienced workplace harassment or sexual misconduct. While the committee is keeping confidential who exactly they heard from during the portion of it study, Deputy Government House Leader Chris Bittle said at the time that these witnesses could include Hill staffers, interns, and members of Parliament.

When passed, the new rules will apply to all federally regulated workplaces, amounting to about eight per cent of the national labour force, including Parliament Hill, banks, telecommunications and transport industries.

Departmental officials told the committee they are conducting a three-part consultation process on the regulations that will coincide with the bill, aiming at having the regulations in place by the fall of 2019.