Employers responsibility: workplace sexual harassment


Dec 22, 2016

In Ontario, it is the employer’s responsibility to maintain an environment free from harassment and discrimination. An employer has a legal obligation to respond to and prevent sexual harassment claims. If harassment has happened within the workplace, employers must take disciplinary action and implement steps for prevention. This may include education sessions. If the employer fails to investigate or appropriately maintain a harassment-free environment, the employer may be considered negligent and could be subject to a lawsuit from the alleged victim.

It is important that employers establish both a written policy and an employee complaint investigation procedure to address any complaints made within the workplace.

What is considered sexual harassment

Sexual harassment in the workplace is when an employee is discriminated against based on sex. Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, sexual harassment is “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought to be known to be unwelcome.” In some cases, one incident could be serious enough to be sexual harassment.

The employer’s responsibility to deal with harassment

Employers are required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to have a workplace harassment policy and a program in place that outlines how that policy would be implemented.

Employers often fail to provide a satisfactory investigation procedure to address reports of sexual harassment, this leaves the employer open to litigation risk. The OHSA requires that workplaces establish an internal investigation procedure in order to properly address these types of claims. An investigation must be carried out and reported by the employer. Depending on the results of the investigation, an employer can undertake a number of disciplinary actions from requiring the harasser to issue an apology to suspension of the harasser.

What to do if you’ve been sexually harassed in the workplace

You have a number of options including talking to the harasser or filing a written complaint to your manager or HR department. If you do not believe that your complaint was properly handled by your place of employment you can also make a complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. Alternatively, if you employer has failed to stop the sexual harassment and this has caused you to suffer emotionally or financially, you may consider suing the harasser and/or the employer.

For legal advice surrounding workplace sexual harassment, whether it be establishing a policy or pursuing a claim, contact one of the experienced St. Catharines employment lawyers of Chown Cairns.

St. Catharines employment lawyer