In response to various recent events in which the issue of
sexual harassment has obtained national focus, the Ontario Human
Rights Commission ("Commission") published on November
25, 2014 an information bulletin on sexual harassment in
The Commission's policy on sexual harassment is not new,
with the most recent version (the "Policy on Preventing Sexual and Gender-Based
Harassment") having been published in 2013. However, the
Commission's most recent publication is a reminder to employers
and employees alike of the seriousness of the issue. The Commission
is also mindful of the increasing scrutiny now being brought to
bear on numerous workplaces, with a focus not only on potential
misconduct, but also on how such concerns are investigated and
Ontario's Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19,
specifically forbids sexual harassment, including in the
"7(2) Every person who is an employee has
a right to freedom from harassment in the workplace because of sex,
sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression by his or
her employer or agent of the employer or by another
As a result, the Commission makes clear in its bulletin that
Ontario employers have a legal duty to prevent and respond to
sexual harassment. Organizations that do not take steps to prevent
sexual harassment can face potential legal liability and expenses,
along with less tangible risks like decreased productivity, low
morale and increased absenteeism.
When deciding if an employer has responded appropriately to a
sexual harassment complaint, a Human Rights Tribunal vice-chair is
likely to look at a number of factors, including the employer's
procedures for addressing harassment, the employer's handling
of the complaint and the employer's history.
How can employers prevent sexual harassment?
Employers can often avoid cases of sexual harassment by taking
one or more of the following fundamental steps, all of which are
strongly recommended by the Commission:
Having a clear, comprehensive anti-sexual harassment policy in
Ensuring all employees have the policy and are aware of their
rights, and their responsibilities not to engage in harassment;
Training everyone in positions of responsibility on the
applicable policy and their respective human rights
Ultimately, each employer will want to address workplace sexual
harassment in a manner which meets its own unique needs. McMillan
Employment and Labour Relations Group has a wealth of
experience in helping employers address workplace risks such as
sexual harassment, including through drafting or reviewing
appropriate workplace policies and handbooks, and by providing
training to better enable managers to recognize and address such
The foregoing provides only an overview and does not
constitute legal advice. Readers are cautioned against making any
decisions based on this material alone. Rather, specific legal
advice should be obtained.
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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