Dealing with sexual harassment at work

Every employer in Ontario has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free from harassment.  This obligation extends to protecting you from harassing acts committed by other employees, management personnel, agents of the company, and clients or customers.

Harassment and even sexual harassment is often in the eyes of the beholder.  Harmless flirting to one employee may be seen as an invitation to a lawsuit to another.  Therefore, it is important to describe what sexual harassment is before we describe how best to deal with it at your workplace and what the options are.

The Human Rights Code defines sexual harassment as any conduct, comment, gesture, or contact of a sexual nature that is likely to cause offence or humiliation to any worker or that might, on reasonable grounds, be perceived by that worker as placing a condition of a sexual nature on employment or on any opportunity for training or promotion.

Toronto Employment Lawyer, Daniel Lublin recently wrote an article published in the Globe and Mail titled I was sexually harassed at work and pushed out. Now what? where he explained the options after sexual harassment occurred at the workplace.

Mr. Lublin explained that the key in almost all cases is whether it can be proven that sexual harassment occurred.  Some employers and judges might be skeptical about these complaints, since employees subjected to any form of perceived mistreatment sometimes hope to extract a settlement and leave.  An immediate complaint or report on what occurred is usually seen as more credible than if made many months later on when the employee has already left

In the event that sexual harassment occurs at your workplace, Mr. Lublin advises the following:

  • If you were forced to quit, you can sue just as if you fired;
  • Employers have a legal duty to investigate complaints of harassment and sexual harassment such that failing to do so can lead to stand-alone liability.  Therefore, make sure these complaints are put into writing;
  • Damages for sexual harassment are not proportional to an employee’s age, tenure or position;
  • Consider a negotiated departure (i.e., severance) before quickly walking off the job.  The advice that specialized legal counsel can provide is how to go about being fairly compensated without even having to sue.

For specific advice, it is always best to consult with an employment lawyer, who can demand compensation since employers tend to settle valid cases quickly, so that others will not find out what occurred.