Sexual harassment in the workplace is a topic that is permeating
the social consciousness more than ever since allegations against a
prominent CBC radio personality have come to light.
Ontario's Human Rights Commission published a statement this week reminding us all that
employers have considerable responsibilities to prevent and address
sexual harassment in the workplace.
While it is certainly not news that any employer is responsible
for maintaining a workplace free from harassment, including sexual
harassment, there are some interesting points for employers to take
away from the Commission's latest publication:
The Commission points out that an individual may be more
susceptible to sexual harassment at work if they identify with more
than one of the grounds protected by the Human Rights Code.For
example, if the employee is both female and a racial minority, or
both gay and with a physical disability, they may be more
vulnerable to the risk of harassment and more intensely affected by
The Commission provides a comprehensive, but not exhaustive,
list of examples of conduct which can constitute sexual
harassment.Some examples are all too obvious, such as
"demanding dates or sexual favours", or "verbally
abusing, threatening or taunting someone based on
gender".Other examples may not be so clear-cut, and in fact
may occur in the workplace without an employee's intention to
harass, including: "invading personal space", and
"acting paternally in a way that someone thinks undermines
their self-respect or position of responsibility".
The Commission emphasizes the responsibility of employers to
take measures to prevent sexual harassment by instituting clear and
cogent policies and ensuring that all employees are aware of their
rights and responsibilities and receive the appropriate training to
comply with an effecting sexual harassment policy.
The statement complements the Commission's 2013 Policy on Preventing Sexual and Gender-Based
Harassment (see link below) and is part of the Commission's
mandate to provide public education and information relating to
Human Rights in Ontario. While the Commission no longer
serves the advocacy and adjudication functions it once did, there
is no doubt that the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, the body
that does rule on Human Rights complaints, will expect employers to
take heed of the Commission's warnings and act
accordingly. Indeed, the Commission warns that a panel of the
Tribunal is likely to identify the following factors when it
receives an Application alleging sexual harassment at work:
The employer's policies and procedures in place at the time
of the alleged harassment;
How quickly the employer responded to an internal
How seriously the complaint was treated;
How the complaint was dealt with;
Whether the employer provided a healthy environment for the
person who made the complaint;
How well the employer kept the complaining employee informed
about the status of their complaint, and actions taken in response
to the complaint, etc.
Clearly workplace harassment is an issue to be treated seriously
by all employers, and Ontario's Human Rights system is giving
every indication that it intends to hold employers to the proof
that they have taken reasonable steps to be proactive and
responsive to sexual harassment at work. The professionals at
CCPartners are experienced and capable to assist you with drafting
and implementing an effective workplace harassment policy, and
finding a way to appropriately respond to complaints of workplace
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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