Employers have a duty to ensure their employees are free from harassment, and inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. Failure to do so may expose the company to civil liabilities, extensive legal fees and other intangible issues. Employers should not take these types of allegations lightly as it can result in lower productivity, higher turnover along with a negative effect on job satisfaction, and one’s physical and psychological well-being.
Inappropriate conduct in the workplace comes in various forms, the most common forms are verbal abuse, violence, sexual harassment, sexual comments and unwanted touching. Employers should ensure they have an appropriate workplace safety policy, anti-harassment policy and a confidential process for reporting the behaviour to protect their employees.
Not only should these policies be written down, but employers should ensure employees are aware of the policies and provide ongoing training on how to deal with such issues.
Even if these policies are effectively implemented, harassment in the workplace can still occur. The Human Rights Tribunal has developed 3 criteria to determine if an employer should be held liable for harassment in the workplace, by determining if the employer’s behaviour was reasonable. The standard for “reasonable behaviour” as outlined in Laskowska v Marineland of Canada Inc., 2005 HRTO 30 (CanLII) is as follows:
1. Was the employer aware of discrimination or harassment before the incident(s), and did it have appropriate policies and complaint mechanisms in place?
2. Did the employer take the complaint(s) seriously, and investigate them both reasonably and promptly?
3. Did the employer resolve the complaint(s) reasonably, provide a safe environment for the employee to return to (if they returned), and communicate its findings clearly to the employee?
If an employer fails to appropriately deal with complaints and issues within the workplace there could be extensive damages awarded against them. In a recent decision, J.D. v. The Ultimate Cut Unisex, 2014 HRTO 956, three women were subjected to ongoing sexual harassment and were forced to leave their employment as a result. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found the owner “made the applicants feel uncomfortable and constantly nervous about how far he might try to go with his sexual harassment, solicitations and advances. When he was in the salon, they were on tenterhooks.”
The applicants were awarded over $100,000 financial compensation for the discrimination and harassment they experienced along with $40,000 in lost wages.
As well a server who was employed at Houston Avenue Bar & Grill alleged that she had been groped by the owner and was awarded $20,000.00 in compensation for injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect and $9,440 for lost wages Granes v. 2389193 Ontario Inc., 2016 HRTO 821 (CanLII).
Sometimes legal action becomes necessary when an employer refuses to adequately address harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Speaking with an experienced legal professional can help you to protect your rights and determine if pursuing a claim if you have been victimized.