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International Labor Organization: Convention to Combat Workplace Violence and Harassment Adopted

(June 28, 2019) On June 21, 2019, the International Labor Organization announced that it had adopted a new convention aimed at combating violence and harassment in the workplace. (New International Labour Standard to Combat Violence, Harassment, at Work Agreed, INTERNATIONAL LABOR ORGANIZATION (ILO) (June 21, 2019).) The groundbreaking treaty was the product of two years of negotiations by ILO member governments, worker representatives, and employers’ organizations, who voted overwhelmingly to approve the agreement. (ILO: New Treaty to Protect Workers from Violence, Harassment, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH (HRW) (June 21, 2019).)

The Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019, acknowledges that violence and harassment at work constitute human rights violations, threaten equal opportunities, and are incompatible with decent work. (ILO, supra.)

The Convention defines “violence and harassment” as behaviors, practices and/or threats that are aimed at, or are likely to result, in psychological, physical, economic or sexual harm, including gender-based violence and harassment, and reminds member countries that they have a duty to promote an environment of zero tolerance. (Id.; HRW, supra.)

According to Human Rights Watch, “[g]overnments that ratify the treaty will be required to develop national laws prohibiting workplace violence and to take preventive measures, such as information campaigns and requiring companies to have workplace policies on violence. The treaty also obligates governments to monitor the issue and provide access to remedies through complaint mechanisms, witness protection measures, and victim services, and to provide measures to protect victims and whistleblowers from retaliation.” (HRW, supra.)

The protective labor standards provided by the Convention include trainees, interns, apprentices, and volunteers, and they recognize that individuals who exercise the authority, responsibilities, or duties of an employer may also be subject to violence and harassment. (ILO, supra.)

The standards cover violence and harassment occurring in a number of circumstances, including in “places where a worker is paid, takes a rest or meal break, or uses sanitary, washing or changing facilities; during work-related trips, travel, training, events or social activities; work-related communications (including through information and communication technologies), in employer-provided accommodation[s]; and when commuting to and from work.” (Id).

The Convention will enter into force 12 months after two member states ratify it. (Id). In addition to this Convention, a Violence and Harassment Recommendation was also adopted, which, although not legally binding, provides guidelines and advice as to how the Convention may be applied. (Id.)

According to the ILO, this is the first international Convention on violence and harassment in the workplace. As a result, there is now an internationally agreed definition of violence and harassment. (Id.)