These last couple of weeks and the events that have unfolded at the CBC and in Canada’s Parliament have brought sexual harassment in the work place to the forefront of conversation, politics and public awareness.
Jian Ghomeshi was fired on October 26th after CBC managers were shown video, photos, texts and e-mails, some of which allegedly showed visible “injury” on women he had dated. Since then, nine women have made allegations of sexual assault or harassment against the former CBC radio host.
New Democrat MPs, Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti, were recently accused of sexually harassing two women MPs. They have since been suspended from caucus by Liberal Leader Justine Trudeau. Ironically, our Parliament has no sexual harassment policy in place to deal with this situation despite being one of our government’s most powerful institutions.
And just last week, former Parliament Hill staffer, Fabiola Ferro filed a claim in the Ontario Supreme Court naming Sylvain Chicoine, a Quebec NDP MP, as defendant. She is claiming damages against him for sexual harassment she allegedly experience while employed. In that case there was an internal complaint process in which the complaint against Mr. Chicoine was dismissed. Ms. Ferro was offered a data-entry position in the Official Opposition Leader’s Office in exchange for her dropping the complaint and renouncing her right to pursue the matter any further which she declined.
In the 1989 case of Janzen v. Platy Enterprises Ltd., the Supreme Court of Canada concluded that:
“… sexual harassment in the workplace may be broadly defined as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that detrimentally affects the work environment or leads to adverse job-related consequences for the victims of the harassment.”
Harassment is a form of discrimination. Harassment occurs when a person is subjected to unwelcome comments or behaviour that is insulting or demeaning, or is otherwise offensive.
How does someone know if their conduct is unwelcome? The best way is to have a work place policy regarding sexual harassment and to educate your employees. If you are the recipient of such unwelcome behaviour you must take proactive steps to protect yourself.
If you feel that you have been subjected to sexual harassment in the work place the first thing you need to do is advise the person who is sexually harassing you that their behaviour is inappropriate. That is not always easy, especially if you feel intimidated. If that is the situation you may wish to report the conduct to management.
If going to management is not successful, the B.C. Human Rights Code protects people from being treated differently or unfairly because of gender. You may file a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, but be aware that a complaint must be filed within 6 months of the alleged conduct. The B.C. Human Rights Code applies to all businesses, agencies, and services in B.C., except those regulated by the federal government. You may also pursue a civil claim. You should consult a lawyer regarding your options.
If you are an employer, you will want to ensure that you have a sexual harassment policy and education program in place to ensure that your employees understand what sexual harassment is. In fact, the Canadian Human Rights Act gives employees the right to work in an environment that is “free of sexual harassment” and requires that employers take proactive measures in that regard. Sexual harassment is harmful. Not only is the subject of the harassment affected, the entire workplace is. It can cause absenteeism, reduced productivity, staff turnover, cause a loss of reputation, low morale and, result in costly litigation or human rights complaints. It can also cause stress and problems to general health. If you are an employer and do not have a sexual harassment policy in place, you should consult a lawyer to help you prepare and implement such a policy at your workplace.The information provided above is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace the advice of a lawyer or address specific situations. Your personal situation should be discussed with a lawyer. If you have any questions or concerns, contact a legal professional.