Reaching Out

Summer 2024 Updates for Social Services Employers

Reaching Out

Summer 2024 Updates for Social Services Employers

Date: June 27, 2024

Dear Friends,

We hope that you are able to find some time this summer to relax and recharge. Before you do, we wanted to bring to your attention some developments that may be important for your social services organization.

As part of an employer’s ongoing obligation to provide a safe workplace, it is important to assess the risk of violence in the workplace. Artimes Ghahremani and Matthew Healey discuss a recent decision involving a social services agency that pleaded guilty under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for failing to assess the risk of workplace violence after a client resident became verbally aggressive and assaulted a group home manager. The article provides a useful checklist that employers can follow to determine if they are in need of an updated risk assessment regarding violence in the workplace.

Stephen Warner provides a brief update on Bill 188, the Supporting Children’s Futures Act, 2024. This legislation ushers in some new obligations—some of which come into effect on July 1, 2024—for organizations that provide services for children in care.

Finally, we provide a brief update on the changes that take place effective July 1, 2024 regarding temporary help agencies and those employers who utilize them.

As always, we hope that you find these updates useful. If you have any comments, would like more information on any of these articles or have requests for articles in future editions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Thanks and have a safe and enjoyable summer.

Michael Smyth, Editor

Failure to Appropriately Assess Risk of Workplace Violence Can Be Costly

Artimes Ghahremani and Matthew Healey

A recent guilty plea arising out of an incident at a Thunder Bay group home provides a helpful reminder to social service providers of their obligations to assess the risk of violence in the workplace.

What Happened

Dilico Anishinabek Family Care operates a mental health treatment group home servicing high-risk youth residents. In November 2023, the home entered a guilty plea and was convicted of an offence under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the Act) for failing to assess the risks of workplace violence in accordance with its obligations under section 32.0.3(1) of the Act. The organization was fined $80,000.00 for this violation.

Section 32.0.3 of the Act requires an employer to assess the risks of workplace violence that may arise from:

  • the nature of the workplace
  • the type of work
  • the conditions of work

As part of this assessment, an employer must take into account circumstances that would be common in “similarly situated” workplaces and any circumstances that are specific to the employer’s workplace that may pose a risk of workplace violence. Importantly, under the Act, an employer is required to reassess the risk of workplace violence as often as necessary to ensure the continued protection of workers.

In this case, a frustrated client resident became verbally aggressive and ultimately assaulted the group home manager. Verbal de-escalation strategies were not successful, and a second worker was also assaulted. A Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (Ministry) investigation into the incident concluded that, while the organization had a workplace violence policy and program, it did not address workplace violence that involved clients. Further, and significant to the guilty plea, the organization had not conducted a workplace violence risk assessment of the home as required by the Act.

Employer Takeaways

The best practice is for a risk assessment to be prepared and reviewed at least annually, in consultation with an organization’s joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative.

The Ministry has identified the following examples of changes or events within a workplace that may also warrant a workplace violence reassessment:

  • an increase in the number, frequency or severity of workplace violence incidents
  • a change in the physical environment of the workplace
  • a change in the demographic/clientele of the workplace
  • a change in environment (e.g., construction)

Workplace Violence Risk Re-Assessment Checklist

The following checklist provides some practical guidance on when and whether you may be due for an updated risk assessment:

  • Have you reviewed your workplace violence policy or workplace violence prevention program within the past year?
    • Does your program accurately set out how and to whom to report workplace incidents?
    • Does the program detail the current investigation procedure?
    • Does your program accurately set out the duties and responsibilities of supervisors, managers and workers?
    • Does your program consider working/travelling alone procedures, emergency lockdown procedures, aggressive behaviour training, security measures such as panic buttons, security alarms or restricted access floors?
  • Has the physical workplace been surveyed within the past year (including parking lots, windows, doors, areas where medication/drugs/cash are stored, meeting rooms, isolated areas for lighting, safety risks and properly functioning locking devices)?
  • Have there been any changes in the workplace such as a change in location or environment, a change in demographic or clientele, or a change in industry or individual job functions?
  • What risks have similar employers identified? What risks are commonly associated with the type/condition of work (e.g., robberies, aggressive patient/client behaviours)?
  • Have you reviewed previous incidents from the last year including first aid, security and critical injury reports to determine if workplace violence has occurred? If so, consider the following:
    • What was the frequency of the violence?
    • What area or job classification was affected by the incidents?
    • Did a worker suffer a critical injury, fatality or lost time from work?
    • Who committed the violent incident (customer, client, co-worker, spouse)?
    • Were there any incidents unforeseen or not considered by the existing policy or prevention program?
    • Were steps taken to prevent or reduce the risk of further incidents?
  • Once you have identified potential areas of risk, evaluate any current controls that may limit potential risk, such as:
    • existing policies or procedures
    • personal protective equipment or devices like cell phones, personal alarms, plastic shields
    • restricted access to all or part of the workplace, including physical barriers, plastic shields, card-only access, locked doors, etc.
    • training on the workplace violence policy, including how to report an incident, summon assistance, and de-escalate aggressive behaviour (where necessary)
  • In light of the potential risks and the current controls in place, consider the likelihood of a violent incident occurring (low, medium, high) and the severity of an injury if an incident did occur (first aid, lost work time of fewer than five days, critical injury, fatality). Evaluate what additional controls can be put in place to further reduce or eliminate the risk of workplace violence, especially for high-risk situations where it is highly likely there could be a serious physical injury to an employee.

For assistance in reviewing or updating your organization’s workplace violence policy or risk assessment, contact your regular Hicks Morley lawyer.

Bill 188 Introduces New Obligations for Organizations Providing Services for Children in Care

By Stephen Warner

Earlier this spring, the Ontario government introduced Bill 188, the Supporting Children’s Futures Act, 2024 (Bill 188). Bill 188 received royal assent on June 6, 2024. It amends the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017 (CYFSA), a law that governs the provision of services for children in care, including child welfare, residential care and youth justice. While some new obligations affecting service providers will take effect on July 1, 2024, others will be proclaimed in force by the government at a later date. In this article, we provide an overview of key changes that impact service providers and identify what to look out for as further changes come into force.

Information Provision and Reporting Obligations

Many of the amendments introduced by Bill 188 create new obligations that relate to information that must (and must not) be provided by an organization governed by the CYFSA. For example, as of July 1, 2024, children’s aid societies and residential licensees are required to provide children and youth in care with information about the Ontario Ombudsman and how to contact the Ombudsman’s office. Further, on a date to be proclaimed in the future, children’s aid societies, licensees, licensees’ employees who provide residential care, and other prescribed individuals will also have an obligation to report child protection concerns that arise at a child’s residence, or place where residential care is provided, to a director appointed under the CYFSA.

Finally, sections of Bill 188 that will be proclaimed into force at a later date expressly prohibit a society or any prescribed person or entity from using or disclosing the personal information of a person who was in care, or who may have been in need of protection, if the information relates to the care and support the individual received and they are no longer receiving this support. This prohibition will be subject to certain exceptions.

Additional Changes of Note

Additional accompanying regulatory changes, set to take effect January 1, 2025, introduce a list of prohibited methods of discipline that may not be used by a licensee, its employees or persons engaged by a licensee (including foster parents). Effective the same date, it will be an offence under the CYFSA for any such methods of discipline to be used.

Through changes to the Social Work and Social Service Work Act, 1998 (SWSSWA), Bill 188 also authorizes circumstances where the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (College) can share information about its members. Effective July 1, 2024, persons engaged in the administration of the SWSSWA are permitted to communicate information that they become aware of in the course of their duties (1) to other professional governing bodies, such as a college governing social workers in another province, (2) if there are reasonable grounds to believe the disclosure is necessary to eliminate or reduce a significant risk of serious harm, and (3) to confirm if the College is investigating a member, if there is a compelling public reason to make this disclosure.


The changes introduced by Bill 188 form part of the Ontario government’s stated broader ongoing strategy to strengthen child welfare in the province. This includes a Child Welfare Redesign Strategy, launched in July 2020, as well as new programs launched to help transition adults newly out of the child welfare system. With additional regulatory developments required to bring about all the changes contemplated in Bill 188, and with some provisions not being declared in force until a later date, affected service providers can expect continued changes to their statutory obligations.

Reminder: Temporary Help Agency and Recruiter Licensing Takes Effect on July 1, 2024

By Michael Smyth

As discussed in our June 7, 2024 FTR Now, the new licensing regime for temporary help agencies (THAs) and recruiters operating in Ontario will take effect July 1, 2024.

Any THA or recruiter doing business in Ontario must submit a licence application before July 1, 2024 (that is, by no later than June 30, 2024). Information on the licensing process and links to the application forms can be found on the Ontario government’s portal.

For social service organizations that use the services of THAs or recruiters, effective July 1, 2024 you will be allowed to conduct business only with businesses that actually have a licence or have a pending application submitted before July 1, 2024. The current status of applications can be accessed on the government’s webpage or through the government portal, above.

Should you have any questions about the impact of this upcoming deadline on your workplace, please contact your regular Hicks Morley lawyer for assistance.

The article in this client update provides general information and should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. This publication is copyrighted by Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP and may not be photocopied or reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without the express permission of Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP. ©