Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

In many ways the HR profession is like the legal profession. For the most part, both operate silently as part of the corporate landscape until there is a dominant news headline. The current wave of sexual misconduct headlines has once again focused the spotlight on the need for greater leadership involvement in shaping the workplace culture to address these matters. Viewed through a moral lens, these instances have both psychological and social costs. They can also create significant financial costs for organizations as well.

ASSOCIUM Consultants has over 30 years of expertise educating clients and expanding their HR capabilities for addressing harassment/misconduct claims. We provide advisory services at all key employee and employer touchpoints including: policy and program development; awareness building and training solutions; workplace investigations and reporting; and case management support.

From time to time we invite our partners across the HR spectrum to share insights on these issues from their vantage. MidSouthWest, a firm which provides online training, presents some compelling reasons why employers need to be more mindful of their approach for addressing the topic of harassment and its related impact on the Canadian workplace.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Since The New York Times published a damning exposé about sexual harassment in Hollywood, revelations have been coming fast and furious about once-revered Hollywood Mogul Harvey Weinstein, and a multitude of other Hollywood Power Brokers [1].

Stories detailed how the co-founder of Miramax Films and the Weinstein Company allegedly has been sexually harassing women in and around the entertainment industry for decades. As the media started peeling back more layers of the story, they suggested a deeper pattern of sexual harassment, intimidation and, in several instances, rape.

Closer to home, the case of former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi played out in the public eye from 2014–2016. At least eight women alleged in media reports that Ghomeshi abused them physically and/or sexually. Three women filed abuse complaints with police. Ghomeshi was acquitted of all charges on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt [2]. However, the case shows that even Canada’s national public radio and television broadcaster is not immune to workplace violence and harassment.

The lives of celebrities and politicians have attracted a lot of attention because we are always interested in famous people doing infamous things. However, with increasing focus on the wellbeing of workers, subjects such as violence, harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace have been drawing more attention in all workplaces.

Legislation

Bill 168, passed in 2010, is part of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) which requires employers to develop, implement, and maintain policies and programs regarding workplace violence and harassment (WVH).

Bill 132, effective on September 8, 2016, contains significant amendments to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Included among these amendments is an expansion of “workplace harassment” to now include “workplace sexual harassment.”

Impacts for Canadian Workplaces

A year after the Ghomeshi verdict, sexual violence experts saw ‘significant advances’ with changes in Legislation with Bill 132, and awareness created by the Ghomeshi trial.

The Independent Investigator who was hired to examine the CBC’s handling of Ghomeshi found that the CBC failed to provide its staff a workplace “free from disrespectful and abusive behavior” [3]. However, it is important to note that the CBC was not charged under the OHSA, and Ghomeshi was charged under the Criminal Code of Canada. If the CBC had been charged under the OHSA they could have been penalized up to $100,000 per charge. Managing individuals with the CBC could have been fined up to $25,000 per charge and/or 12 months in prison. Based on the Independent Investigator’s findings that the CBC failed to provide its staff a workplace “free from disrespectful and abusive behavior,” managing individuals could have opened themselves to a civil lawsuit with much more devastating financial and public image repercussions.

The impact of sexual assault goes far beyond direct victims. Each year, sexual assault costs Canadian society billions of dollars. In 2009, dealing with sexual assault and related offenses cost the Canadian economy an estimated $4.8 billion [3]

It is the employer’s responsibility to take all reasonable precautions necessary to ensure employees know the laws and understand how best to protect themselves. This includes ensuring that workers, managers and supervisors understand the sources of workplace violence and harassment (including both internal and external sources) and their roles and responsibilities in maintaining a safe and healthy workplace free from violence and harassment. It is important for employers to understand the potential sources and impacts of workplace violence and harassment and develop a robust policy for managing these issues.

References

[1] Twohey, J. K. (2017, October 05). Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades. Retrieved November 01, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/us/harvey-weinstein-harassment-allegations.html

[2] Tucker, E. (2016, May 11). Timeline: Jian Ghomeshi sex assault scandal. Retrieved November 01, 2017, from https://globalnews.ca/news/1647091/timeline-sex-assault-allegations-arise-after-cbc-fires-jian-ghomeshi/

[3] Canadian Women Foundation (2017), from https://www.canadianwomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Facts-About-Sexual-Assault-and-Harassment.pdf

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