February 12, 2015

As a result of a series of high-profile and very public disclosures in recent months, the problem of sexual harassment in Canada’s workplaces has surged to the forefront of workplace law. These recent cases have served to illustrate that sexual harassment, though often hidden, continues to be a major problem afflicting a large segment of the Canadian workforce at all levels, and that significant barriers to disclosure still exist for those who suffer harassment – including fear of reprisal, concern that allegations will be ignored, and a lack of appropriate mechanisms and policies to encourage reporting of sexual harassment. In this session, Lancaster’s experts will provide practical advice on the strategies that can be employed by workplace parties to reduce the likelihood that sexual harassment will take place, and to ensure that incidents of sexual harassment are dealt with appropriately, promptly, and effectively, when they do occur. Issues to be addressed include:

  • Recognizing the faces of sexual harassment: What types of behaviour may constitute sexual harassment, and what are the different forms that it might take? What groups of workers are most likely to experience sexual harassment? How can workplace parties recognize when sexual harassment may be occurring? Are there any telltale signs that an individual is experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace? What options are available to employers, managers, unions, and co-workers when an individual suspects that sexual harassment is occurring?
  • Meeting legal obligations: What are the legal obligations of employers, unions, and co-workers in respect of sexual harassment? What should/must the various workplace parties do where it is alleged that sexual harassment has taken place? What obligations do the parties have to report or address suspicions of sexual harassment? What specific obligations flow from the provisions of provincial and federal occupational health and safety legislation? Do parties’ obligations differ where the alleged conduct involves a sexual assault, as opposed to other forms of sexual harassment?
  • Investigating workplace harassment: What obligations apply where a complaint of sexual harassment is being investigated? What are some best practices in this context? How can the safety and security of complainants and witnesses be guaranteed? What steps should be taken to ensure that complainants and witnesses are protected from reprisals? Is the CBC’s investigation procedure in the Ghomeshi case adequate or not?
  • Responding to sexual harassment: When is discharge an appropriate response to sexual harassment? When is lesser discipline appropriate? What factors should be considered in this regard? Is dismissal of a perpetrator of sexual harassment enough, or is further action required to restore a sense of safety and security in the workplace? If so, what additional action should be taken? If a perpetrator is not dismissed, does this send the wrong message to other employees? How should an employer ensure that a harasser who remains in the workplace does not threaten the psychological or physical well-being of other employees? What action can be taken to restore the environment for employees adversely affected by workplace sexual harassment?
  • Being proactive: How can unions and employers work together to create an environment that deters sexual harassment and encourages reporting? What policies, procedures, and training can be adopted to prevent a workplace culture in which sexual harassment is prevalent and to encourage victims to come forward and report sexual harassment? How can employers send a signal that sexual harassment in the workplace will not be tolerated? What are some examples of policies and training that have been successful in rehabilitating a work environment poisoned by sexual harassment in the past?