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Posts tagged: Human Rights

Not Preventing Sexual Assault and Harassment in the Workplace is Now More Expensive

By , June 22, 2018 11:16 am

On average, damages awarded to an employee for a breach of the Human Rights Code, remain relatively low, typically $10,000 to $15,000. However, the HRTO recently released two significant decisions that reflect a willingness to award higher amounts. Both decisions involve sexual assault and sexual harassment against women in vulnerable circumstances.

In both cases, the owners of the companies were found to be personally liable along with the corporations.

The Cases

In A.B. v. Joe Singer Shoes Limited et al, 2018 HRTO 107, the employee worked for Joe Singer for 28 years. The allegations made by A.B. were of atrocious conduct. She stated that she was forced to perform oral sex, intercourse, and degrading sexual conduct. She accused her employer of watching pornography in his office. Her employer also criticized her skin colour, accent, and body. Although she had issues with her memory in her testimony, the HRTO still preferred her evidence, and found company and the owner both responsible for the sexual assault and sexual harassment. The HRTO ordered the respondents to pay $200,000 as compensation for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect.

Following Joe Singer, the HRTO released G.M. v. X Tattoo Parlour, 2018 HRTO 201. In X Tattoo, the applicant was a 15-year-old woman whose employer engaged in unwanted sexual discussion and forced the applicant to engage in sex acts. Looking to the Joe Singer decision, the HRTO awarded $75,000 in general damages (the maximum that the applicant had requested).

Lessons

Most employers would hope and believe that their staff and management would not engage in the conduct seen in Joe Singer and X Tattoo. However, the bar for the maximum damage awards has increased. We can expect that the average award level will also increase.

Employers need to ensure:

  1. that they create a workplace culture of no tolerance for harassment and violence. This includes having the appropriate policies and training in place;
  2. that they respond promptly to every sexual harassment complaint and investigate all complaints as well as incidents; and
  3. that those who come forward do not face punishment or reprisal for doing so.

For over 30 years, MacLeod Law Firm has been advising employers on all aspects of the employment relationship. If you have any questions about dealing with sexual assault or sexual harassment complaints and allegations and would like to discuss them with a lawyer, please contact me at [email protected] or 647-633-9894.

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.

 

Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment At Work

By , January 25, 2018 4:30 pm

In the wake of workplace sexual assault allegations against Patrick Brown, I continue to reiterate what employers of any kind can do to try and prevent and discourage sexual harassment and sexual assault at work.

Given the context of the recent allegations, the first point appears particularly important.

1. As individuals, rethink flirting, compliments, or seeking romantic relationships at work. Legally, before acting, you need to be certain that advances, comments and conduct is consented to and wanted by a co-worker; otherwise, it can be sexual harassment. Definitely, do not make sexual advances to a subordinate. If you have power over a person’s job, pay, duties etc. it is difficult to decipher whether consent is truly given. Repeated advances made to a peer (as opposed to a subordinate), even where no explicitly sexual or gender-based comments are made, can affect a person’s dignity and sense of value as an employee. As an individual, you could be found personally liable under the Human Rights Code (the “Code”) for sex- based discrimination, sexual harassment, or sexual solicitation. As an employer, you can be vicariously liable for your employee’s conduct if you knew about it and did nothing. 

2. Employers can create a culture of no tolerance for harassment and violence. But this ethos must start at the top. Employers should have policies against harassment, including sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. This is a very basic first step to setting the culture. It is also required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) for employers with more than five employees.

3. Promptly respond to every sexual harassment complaint. Do not let anyone brush it off, excuse the behaviour, or consider it a “harmless joke”. Adequately investigating such a complaint is required under OHSA and the Code. Treat the complaint as truthful and made in good faith. Take complaints seriously – whether the complaint is about crude jokes or sexual assault. “Locker room talk” is not permissible in Ontario workplaces. These factors will be considered by judges and tribunal members whether assessing whether a complaint was investigated properly. It also creates a workplace climate where employees feel they can share their stories.

4. Investigate all incidents as well as complaints. Do not wait for an employee to come forward to investigate sexual harassment. It is mandatory under OHSA to investigate any incident that comes to the employer’s attention. Remember: A formal complaint is not needed. Learning of incidents of sexual harassment or violence but not investigating them is a violation of OHSA. Allowing the behaviour to continue unchecked also creates a culture of tolerance for this behaviour. Waiting for a woman to share her story before intervening puts the pressure on the woman to create change.

5. Men need to call out other men when they are engaging in belittling, harassing, or abusive acts against women. An employer can be liable for a poisoned work environment if there is a culture of sexualized joking even if it is not targeted at a particular individual.

6. Do not punish someone for coming forward. Even if you investigate and cannot substantiate the allegations, this does not mean it did not occur. Punishing someone for making a harassment complaint is generally considered a reprisal and can result in reinstatement and back pay under both the Code and OHSA.

7. Show respect to women. This includes equal pay for equal work, and fair merit- based promotions. In some contexts, this is required by law through the Code, the Employment Standards Act, and the Pay Equity Act. It also creates a workplace that values women and will diminish sex-based discrimination or harassment.

8. Stop language that diminishes women such as names like “honey”, “babe”, “dear”, or “girl”. This is subtle sex-based discrimination and elevates lowers their status.

 

For over 30 years, MacLeod Law Firm has been advising employers on all aspects of the employment relationship. If you have any questions and would like to discuss them with a lawyer, please contact me at [email protected] or 647-633-9894.

The material and information in this blog and this website are for general information only. They should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. The authors make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of any information referred to in this blog or its links. No person should act or refrain from acting in reliance on any information found on this website or blog. Readers should obtain appropriate professional advice from a lawyer duly licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. These materials do not create a lawyer-client relationship between you and any of the authors or the MacLeod Law Firm.

 

Marijuana legalization – How Employers Should Navigate the Hazy Legal Landscape

By , January 11, 2018 10:45 am

The legalization of marijuana is expected to change Ontario’s employment law landscape in 2018. Legislation is expected to be implemented by July 2018.

It is not too early for employers to take proactive steps to address these changes.

Expected changes

Bill C-45, An Act respecting Cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts (the “Bill”) passed its second reading on November 27, 2017. Although the bill will legalize cannabis across Canada, the provinces and territories will generally determine how marijuana can be sold and used. The Bill allows the Minister of Labour to make regulations relating to smoking in the workplace.

What employers should do

Employers should review their current workplace policies and if a drug and alcohol policy does not exist, then the employer should consider  adding one before the new cannabis laws take effect. Among other things, the policy should recognise that recreational use of marijuana will be legalized under the Bill requires a different approach than medical use of marijuana which has been legal since 1999.

Although the legalization of marijuana is a big change, employers often forget that just because something is legal, does not mean it is permissible at the workplace. For example, alcohol is legal, however, employers are entitled to expect that their employees report to work sober and refrain from drinking alcohol at the workplace. Similarly, simply because recreational marijuana is being legalized does not mean that it is permissible to smoke marijuana at the workplace, or attend the workplace impaired. Employers can set out their expectations regarding impairment and safety at the workplace in workplace policies and procedures.

With respect to medical use of marijuana, employers need to be mindful of their obligations under Ontario’s Human Rights Code, namely, the duty to accommodate employees to the point of  undue hardship, which may include permitting an employee to work while under the influence of marijuana. The duty to accommodate does not eliminate an employer’s right to seek medical proof of prescription and medical documentation supporting the fact that the employee is required to ingest marijuana during working hours, nor does it eliminate an employer’s duty to ensure that the workplace is safe for all employees. Thus, employers must remain prepared to deal with marijuana-related accommodation requests on a case by case basis, taking into consideration the employee’s medical needs and their obligations under health and safety laws.

Lessons to Be Learned

The legalization of marijuana is changing the legal landscape. Due to these changes, we recommend that new policies be drafted to address the anticipated increase in  marijuana use, or that existing policies be amended to ensure they are consistent with the upcoming changes. The MacLeod Law Firm offers a fixed fee service to prepare new drug & alcohol policies, or to revise existing policies.

If you have any questions regarding the effect of the Bill on your workplace, or would like to learn more about the fixed fee service mentioned above, feel free to contact 647-985-9894.

Significant Changes Coming to the Human Rights Code

By , November 17, 2017 1:09 pm

Bill 164, Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2017 passed second reading by the Ontario government on October 26, 2017 and has been referred to Standing Committee.

The Bill proposes to make significant changes to the Ontario Human Rights Code (Code). It proposes to add immigration status, genetic characteristics, police records, and social conditions as human rights grounds. The Bill is supposed to provide better protections to the most vulnerable in society.

Social conditions will be defined as social or economic disadvantage arising from (a) employment status; (b) source or level of income; (c) housing status, including homelessness; (d) level of education, or “any other circumstance similar to those mentioned in clauses (a), (b), (c) and (d).  

While a significant change, Ontario will not be alone in recognizing social condition as a protected human rights ground. Human rights in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Northwest Territories all recognize social condition, social origin, or source of income.

Ontario will also be joining other provinces like British Columbia in having a more fulsome protection against discrimination on the basis of “police records.” The Bill proposes to include charges and convictions and police records such as those that involve a person’s contact with police. This would replace the current human rights ground of “record of offences,” which is defined as an offence for which someone has been pardoned.

Genetic characteristics will be defined as refusing to undergo a genetic test or refusing to disclose, or authorize the disclosure of, the results of a genetic test. Ontario will join the Federal government in this regard.  Of note, there is no proposed change to section 22 of the Code, which would mean the current exemption given to insurance companies to discriminate on the basis of age, sex and marital status would not apply to genetic characteristics. Previous bills attempting to include genetic characteristics in the Code allowed insurers to discriminate on this basis if the policy payout was over a certain amount.

If all of these changes become law, employers, service providers, and landlords will need to carefully examine their policies and practices to ensure they are compliant with the new law.  

It is possible that the Bill’s current form could change before becoming law.  Many bills are altered at the Committee stage – often significantly.

We will update this blog as soon as further legislative steps are taken.

In the meantime, if you have concerns that your human rights policies need updating, a lawyer at MacLeod Law Firm can assist you. You can reach us at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.

#Metoo #Himtoo #Youtoo – Sexual Harassment and Violence at Work

By , October 31, 2017 5:15 pm

In the wake of sexual harassment allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, the viral social media campaign #metoo has emerged as a way for millions of people to denounce sexual assault and harassment. Although it is an important campaign, I have been late to add my voice to the #metoo discussion because of the disproportionate focus on the stories women have shared. Many seem to suggest that there is an obligation on women to share their experiences in order to make change. But recounting these events over and over again can re-traumatize someone who has been through harassment and assault. What’s more, the majority of women are not surprised by the #metoo stories – as upsetting as they are. Women have been sharing experiences and naming men for years privately, and even publicly. But, what needs to happen for there to be a positive culture shift?

Here are my suggestions for how to reduce sexual harassment and violence in the workplace – a place where much sexual harassment still occurs:

  1. Employers can create a culture of no tolerance for harassment and violence. But this ethos must start at the top. Employers should have policies against harassment, including sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. This is a very basic first step to setting the culture. It is also required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) for employers with more than five employees.
  1. Promptly respond to every sexual harassment complaint. Do not let anyone brush it off, excuse the behaviour, or consider it a “harmless joke”. Adequately investigating such a complaint is required under OHSA and the Human Rights Code (“Code”). Treat the complaint as truthful and made in good faith. Take complaints seriously – whether the complaint is about crude jokes or sexual assault. “Locker room talk” is not permissible in Ontario workplaces. These factors will be considered by judges and tribunal members whether assessing whether a complaint was investigated properly. It also creates a workplace climate where employees feel they can share their stories.
  1. Investigate all incidents as well as complaints. Do not wait for an employee to come forward to investigate sexual harassment. It is mandatory under OHSA to investigate any incident that comes to the employer’s attention. Remember: A formal complaint is not needed. Learning of incidents of sexual harassment or violence but not investigating them is a violation of OHSA. Allowing the behaviour to continue unchecked also creates a culture of tolerance for this behaviour. Waiting for a woman to share her story before intervening puts the pressure on the woman to create change.
  1. Men need to call out other men when they are engaging in belittling, harassing, or abusive acts against women. An employer can be liable for a poisoned work environment if there is a culture of sexualized joking even if it is not targeted at a particular individual.
  1. Do not punish someone for coming forward. Even if you investigate and cannot substantiate the allegations, this does not mean it did not occur. Punishing someone for making a harassment complaint is generally considered a reprisal and can result in reinstatement and back pay under both the Code and OHSA.
  1. Show respect to women. This includes equal pay for equal work, and fair merit- based promotions. In some contexts, this is required by law through the Code, the Employment Standards Act, and the Pay Equity Act. It also creates a workplace that values women and will diminish sex-based discrimination or harassment.
  1. Stop language that diminishes women such as names like “honey”, “babe”, “dear”, or “girl”. This is subtle sex-based discrimination and elevates lowers their status.
  1. As individuals, rethink flirting, compliments, or seeking romantic relationships at work. Legally, before acting, you need to be certain that advances, comments and conduct is consented to and wanted by a co-worker; otherwise, it can be sexual harassment. Definitely, do not make sexual advances to a subordinate. If you have power over a person’s job, pay, duties etc. it is difficult to decipher whether consent is truly given. Repeated advances made to a peer (as opposed to a subordinate), even where there are not sexual or gender-based, can affect a person’s dignity and sense of value as an employee. As an individual, you could be found personally liable under the Code for sex- based discrimination, sexual harassment, or sexual solicitation. As an employer, you can be vicariously liable for your employee’s conduct if you knew about it and did nothing.

If you would like to discuss these suggestions, please contact me at [email protected] or 647-633-9894.

 

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