Harassment policies are a common aspect of workplace
administration for most human resource practitioners. However,
establishing a harassment policy is only part of what employers
should do to address harassment in the workplace. The key to
protecting against potentially costly claims for harassment is to
implement and follow proper policies and investigation
On December 16, 2013, an Alberta arbitration board awarded just
over $805,000 in damages and lost wages to an employee who was
sexually assaulted by a foreman at her place of work, both before
and after making an initial complaint to her supervisor:
Calgary (City) v CUPE, Local 38, 2013 CanLII 88297.
In November 2010, the employee reported sexual harassment and
assault to her supervisor, who was also the foreman's
supervisor. The next week, the supervisor went on vacation, leaving
the foreman in charge. The assaults continued. Fearing she would
not be believed, the employee installed a spy camera in her work
station and recorded one of the assaults. The employee approached
her supervisor again, who indicated his next step would be to
report the assault to corporate security so an investigation could
be launched. The supervisor wrote a memo to corporate security
indicating that in his view, the pictures were
"inconclusive". The foreman was suspended with pay and
then placed on paid sick leave. On January 5, 2011, he pleaded
guilty to numerous counts of sexual assault.
The employee was then the victim of what appeared to be an
incident of retaliation. She was also told to attend a psychiatric
evaluation and she was "counseled" by the employer. A
grievance was filed on the employee's behalf and she was moved
to another work site. In August 2011, the employee went on sick
leave and has not returned to work. There was no record that any
investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment and sexual
assault was ever completed. This resulted in the largest award to
date for damages and lost wages for sexual harassment in an
From Prevention to Investigation: How Employers Can Reduce Risk
There are several steps you can take to minimize the risks of
1. Proactively implement appropriate workplace policies that
address harassment, bullying, and workplace violence. This is now
required by law in
2. Ensure that employees and supervisors are aware of the
3. Follow the policies and review them from time to time for
compliance with legal obligations.
4. If you receive a complaint, treat it seriously.
5. Without prejudging the matter, determine if anything needs to
be done to address the situation while the investigation is being
6. Commence, document, and complete an unbiased investigation in
a timely manner.
7. Take appropriate action based on the results of the
8. Treat all affected parties with dignity and respect
throughout the process.
Employers that have appropriate policies, conduct meaningful
investigations, and follow through with reasonable and prompt
action will be well placed to avoid the risk of a significant
damage award against them.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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