You may have seen the commercials the Ontario Government is paying for and running during the hockey playoffs about sexual harassment and assault. The commercials encourage workers to speak up both personally and professionally to a supervisor or someone in authority. Or you may have followed the former CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi who was charged with sexual assault last fall. During the time when the Ghomeshi story hit the news, there were numerous media articles about what defines sexual consent in Canada. Other news stories include Bill Cosby’s assault of over 30 women, which is being discussed all over facebook. Bottom line is that you have to know that sexual harassment/assault awareness is at an all-time high. And that the Ontario Ministry of Labour has no sense of humour when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace. Nor should they.
It can be the constant flirty and sexual jokes. It can be the not-so-inadvertent touches that happen to your summer students. It is your female staff’s knowledge that there is a manager that they don’t want to be left alone with. It’s the gay jokes in the lunchroom directed at your worker of a different sexual orientation. No matter what it is, unwelcome sexual overtones in your workplace are inappropriate. Supervisors/owners can be held responsible if they don’t act on complaints of harassment. People in positions of authority can also be held liable for incidents that take place during business hours, trips, company parties or other company-related functions. You could be held financially liable for something one of your employees does to another if you don’t have the proper training or policies in place. As one client said “My worker got the thrill and I got the bill”.
Some examples of harassment are:
• asking for sex in exchange for a benefit or a favour
• repeatedly asking for dates, and not taking “no” for an answer
• demanding hugs
• making unnecessary physical contact, including unwanted touching
• using rude or insulting language or making comments toward women
(or men, depending on the circumstances)
• calling people sex-specific derogatory names
• making sex-related comments about a person’s physical characteristics
• saying or doing something because you think a person does not conform
to sex-role stereotypes
• posting or sharing pornography, sexual pictures or cartoons, sexually
explicit graffiti, or other sexual images (including online)
• making sexual jokes
• bragging about sexual prowess.
• Constantly mentioning how an employee is dressed or what they look like
• invading personal space
• leering or inappropriate staring
• making gender-related comments about someone’s physical characteristics or mannerisms
• sexual jokes, including passing around written sexual jokes (for example, by e-mail)
• rough and vulgar humour or language related to gender
• using sexual or gender-related comment or conduct to bully someone
• spreading sexual rumours (including on-line)
• making suggestive or offensive comments or hints about members of a specific gender
• making sexual propositions
• verbally abusing, threatening or taunting someone based on gender
• asking questions or talking about sexual activities
• making an employee dress in a sexualized or gender-specific way
• acting paternally in a way that someone thinks undermines their self-respect or position of responsibility
• threats to penalize or otherwise punish a person who refuses to comply with sexual advances (reprisal or “payback”).
source: Government of Ontario
So what happens if you’ve long had the “boys will be boys” attitude in your company, or if you think that women can “dish it out and should be able to take a joke”? You would be wrong and there could be a culture of sexualized behavior in your workplace. A person who is being sexually harassed at work may have recourse under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. That means The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal might need to wade in.
In Ontario you need to have the following:
• a clear, comprehensive anti-sexual harassment policy in place
• ensure all employees have the policy and are aware of their rights, and their responsibilities not to engage in harassment
• training in place for everyone in positions of responsibility with respect the policy and their human rights obligations.
• the procedures in place to deal with discrimination and harassment
If there has been an incident in your workplace The Tribunal dealing with Sexual Harassment in Ontario looks at the following things:
• how quickly the organization responded
• how seriously the complaint was treated
• the resources made available to deal with the complaint
• if the organization provided a healthy environment for the person who complained
• how well the person who complained was kept informed about the status of the complaint, actions taken, etc.
You may be surprised that things like jokes, or repeated comments on what someone is wearing could be considered harassment. Or you may have a long established culture of harassment in your company. No matter your history, what you need to have today is a policy and training about harassment in your workplace. It’s the law.
Given that sexual harassment is such a delicate area, having a professional create and administer the program protects you, your supervisors and your employees. Further, if there has been an issue, Spratt Safety has the resources available to walk you through the process and get the necessary help for your employees.