Almost a year ago, Jian Ghomeshi, the former host of the internationally-syndicated CBC Radio program Q, was dismissed from his employment amidst allegations of sexual assault against past female partners. The barrage of additional allegations of sexual harassment and bullying by Mr. Ghomeshi against his CBC co-workers highlight deficiencies in the way that many workplaces address allegations of sexual harassment, not to mention the laws intended to protect employees.
The media buzz in the wake of the Ghomeshi scandal acted as a catalyst for change, and has led to, among other things, a move to strengthen the laws that govern an employer’s workplace safety obligations to its employees. Take a look at our most recent blog post for some additional context regarding Ghomeshi and other high profile sexual harassment cases.
Last week, for example, the Ontario government tabled Bill 132, the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act. The legislation is based in large part on a previous report titled “It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Step Sexual Violence and Harassment,” which was released in March.
If Bill 132 is passed, it will definitively make sexual harassment in the workplace a health and safety issue. The proposed changes will create additional obligations on employers to address and prevent incidents of workplace harassment by amending the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”). The Bill will expand the definition of “workplace harassment” to specifically include workplace sexual harassment. Bill 132 defines workplace sexual harassment as follows:
- Engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, where the course of comment or conduct is known or ought reasonably known to be unwelcome; or
- Making a sexual solicitation or advance where the person making the solicitation or advance is in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to a worker and the person knows or ought reasonably to know that the solicitation or advance is unwelcome.
Bill 132 requires that all incidents and complaints of workplace sexual harassment be appropriately investigated, that a complainant be informed of the results of the investigation and any corrective action, and that the employer’s workplace harassment program be reviewed at least annually. In addition, OHSA would require that employers have measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment and for the permissible disclosure of information during and after the conclusion of the investigation.
Bill 132 would also create a special team of investigators who are specially trained to address workplace harassment complaints and enforce OHSA’s harassment provisions. These investigators may order that an employer, at its own expense, commission an independent investigation and report.
Although there are no assurances that Bill 132 will become law, sexual harassment in the workplace is an important issue that needs to be addressed. Employers are encouraged to consider their potential exposures in this area, and act proactively to address the threat of sexual harassment in the workplace. A proactive approach not only has the potential to improve workplace engagement and prevent your company from being a public example of why workplace sexual harassment laws are needed, but can help mitigate the threat of costly legal or human rights challenges.
This blog is provided as information and a summary of workplace legal issues.
This information is not intended as legal advice.