Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Society struggles to prevent sexual harassment in the future, punish perpetrators and compensate victims. Sexual harassment is a major workplace problem. Usually, the victims are women. Canadian laws have been slow to solve the issue, but recent Tribunal awards have aimed to punish companies and compensate victims by awarding between $12,000 and $50,000 in proven instances of sexual harassment.

Sexual Harassment affects almost everyone

According to Statistics Canada 4% of women reported being sexually harassed within the last year alone. In the United States some studies found that 70% of women experienced sexual harassment during the course of their careers.

Not only is sexual harassment dehumanizing, and, by itself, extremely harmful, it also creates a number of negative external effects relating to the health and productivity of everyone in the workplace. Employers are required by law to take steps against sexual harassment but often do not go far enough.

A long way to go before ensuring adequate prevention against sexual harassment

Both the Federal and Provincial governments have passed strong legislation in an attempt to deal with sexual harassment. However, even with all of these laws the problem persists, sometimes ignored by employers. For instance, according to government reports, in the federal sector 23% of employees work in an environment without an appeals process and 13% of employees work for an organization that has no harassment prevention program in place at all. This is, of course, even assuming that these methods work efficiently and in an unbiased way, which, from the statistics above, is clearly not the case. The legislation relies on internal company systems which are often flawed.

Effective remedy in the Courts and Tribunals

Employees have the rights to sue if they are sexually harassed. Courts and Tribunals dealing with sexual harassment have often handed out punitive damages against the employer in order to force them to put in place better anti-harassment policies.

In Vipond v. Ben Wicks Pub and Bistro (2013 HRTO 695) a Vice Chair of the Tribunal, Ken Bhattacharjee, reviewed tribunal decisions and found that “Recent Tribunal decisions that have considered sexual harassment and related issues in the context of employment have generally made awards ranging from $12,000 to $50,000.” Therefore a sexually harassed employee may have a claim against their employer for a significant amount of money, and employers may have a high liability relating to each employee who is harassed.

Sexual harassment cases can be very difficult

In many cases employers try to hide sexual harassment under the rug in order to avoid their own liability. For employers it is important to have independent legal advice which can provide them with an objective assessment of the situation. For employees it is critical to be represented by a lawyer when making a sexual harassment complaint.

A matter to be seriously considered

From an employer perspective: it is important to have strict policies in place in order to eliminate sexual harassment. You are vicariously liable for all workplace harassment, unless you have the strictest of policies and procedures in place. Contact a lawyer today to discuss what more can be done to strengthen your policies.

For employees: it is important to know that there can be compensation, but that you have to fight for it before either the Tribunals or the Court. In this case, it is of great benefit to be represented by a lawyer who will make sure that you are compensated for the wrong done to you and who will fight hard to set an example in order to reduce the chances of the same thing happening to someone else.

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