Sexual Harassment and Assault at Work: Options for Legal Redress
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Introduction – Part II

During Part I of this blog, we outlined three initial legal options for survivors of sexual assault and/or harassment in the workplace context. These included filing a workplace complaint, filing a grievance if you are in a unionized setting, or submitting an application to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO). Here, we continue to outline the remaining three options for legal redress in this context. 

Asserting a Constructive Dismissal

Per Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, your employer is responsible for ensuring a safe, harassment-free work environment. If you resign from your employment you typically will not be entitled to any compensation from your employer. If you are terminated, you will typically be entitled to notice of termination – colloquially known as a “severance package”. However, the law has carved out an exception in circumstances where the employer’s conduct has been so bad that you essentially have no choice but to quit. This is called a “constructive dismissal.’” Depending on the facts of each case, asserting a successful constructive dismissal claim could result in a damages (compensation) award comparable to what you would have been entitled to had you been terminated. If your constructive dismissal arose out of the context of being sexually harassed or assaulted at work, you may also be entitled to additional forms of compensation including human rights or general damages. 
Continue Reading Sexual Harassment and Assault at Work: Options for Legal Redress – Part 2

Sexual Harassment and Assault at Work: Options for Legal Redress
Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

Introduction – Part I

In the wake of the #MeToo era, a burgeoning consciousness has grown around the existence of and need to address sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace. Individuals of all genders and orientations have found the courage to come forward, and legislation in Ontario has made it mandatory for employers to sufficiently investigate these allegations in a timely and comprehensive manner. Trauma-informed Workplace Investigations inherently require a sound understanding of power dynamics and nuanced forms of sexual harassment. New hybrid work models pose unique obstacles for enforcing cyber-bullying and anti-discrimination/harassment policies, and have brought to the forefront the importance of building a workforce predicated on respect, plurality, accountability, legal compliance, and employee well-being. As part of this, employees who experience sexual assault and/or harassment in the workplace may have different legal options at their disposal. 

In Part 1, we begin here with a  review of three possible options. 
Continue Reading Sexual Harassment and Assault at Work: Options for Legal Redress – Part I

ONCA upholds employer for-cause termination for sexual harassment
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Overview

In Hucsko v. A.O. Smith Enterprises Limited, 2021 ONCA 728, the Ontario Court of Appeal (ONCA) overturned the lower Court’s decision that found an employee had been wrongfully dismissed in relation to sexual harassment allegations and was awarded 20 months’ notice. In its reversal, the ONCA held that the employee had failed to fulfill remedial steps required by his employer; that he did in fact sexually harass his coworker; and that his for-cause termination was justified.  

Background

A senior, 20-year employee made several comments to his younger, female coworker on several occasions, including the following:
Continue Reading ONCA upholds employer for-cause termination for sexual harassment

Bill 132 - Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Date
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In response to the provincial government’s March 2015 report entitled  “It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment,” the Ontario legislature passed Bill 132 – Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan in March 2016, which entered into force in September of that year. This Bill amended Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), establishing specific requirements with respect to sexualized harassment and violence prevention in Ontario’s workplaces. In turn, employers have since had additional responsibilities to understand, address and eliminate workplace sexual harassment and violence beyond previous measures. This requires sound and updated workplace policies, sufficient workplace training, and additional competencies to ensure compliance with the OHSA via, amongst other things, informed and diligent workplace investigations.
Continue Reading Understanding your employer obligations under Bill 132 – Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan

romance in the workplaceSpringLaw’s Lisa Stam joined ADP’s Jeff Livingstone, host of the Insights@Work podcast for a conversation about romance in the workplace.

As Jeff explains, “When professional and personal lives co-mingle, it’s only natural that romantic work relationships happen.  While merging romance and work might sound like an ideal situation, navigating office politics and HR policies present

dress code rulesWith so much hot news swirling around, some may have missed the story of the Arctic research mission MOSAiC’s dress code. Apparently, women on board the ship were told not to dress in tight-fitting clothing, and specifically no leggings, no crop tops, no short shorts, no hot pants and “nothing too revealing.” The leader of the mission apparently felt that this was a “safety issue,” as “there are a lot of men on board this ship … and some of them are going to be on board this ship for months at a time.” Ah hem. 

It’s been reported that the dress code policy followed allegations of sexual harassment made by several women on the ship.

Continue Reading Dress Code Rules: What’s wrong with saying “no hot pants”?

workplace violence and harassment
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When it comes to workplace violence and prevention, the federal government has been playing catch up with the provinces. Starting in 2017, the feds have been working on amendments to the Canada Labour Code (CLC) to more fully address workplace violence and harassment. While Bill-65 – snappily named An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (harassment and violence), the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1 – establishing the amendments was passed in 2018, the changes had not come into effect nor had a date for their coming into effect been announced. New regulations were announced on June 24, 2020, which provide employers with more details regarding what will be required of them and setting out an effective date of January 1, 2021, for the changes. There are also requirements that employers need to meet before January 1, 2021. More details can be found on the government site here.  
Continue Reading New Federal Anti-Workplace Violence and Harassment Requirements

internal vs external workplace investigations
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So you’ve received a harassment complaint from one employee about another employee. What do you do? Do you have to investigate?  Can you use your common sense and just discipline? Is the complaint clearly BS in the first place? What if the complaint is about a break-the-company level fraud by your CFO?

Workplace investigations are usually an unwelcome but necessary business diversion. Many employers would rather avoid them and will attempt, or seek counsel’s validation for, a quick and dirty alternative such as a quick-release termination of the alleged wrongdoer or relocation of the complainant. But these are not alternatives to investigating, are never the upfront solution and often fail to satisfy the legal obligation to properly investigate. These responses are more likely to expose an employer to greater liability.

A complaint of workplace misconduct needs to move quickly, and yet is no time for fast thinking. Employers should instead think carefully about the substance of the complaint, the impact on the involved parties and the business fallout if their response is the wrong one. 
Continue Reading Do I have to hire a super expensive external investigator? Maybe. Maybe not.

In my last blog posts (here and here), I discussed the emerging importance of coworking spaces in the post-industrial workforce and some of the risks around data security and privacy.  In this part three of the series, I set out some of the employment law issues related to human interactions in coworking spaces:  booze, sexual harassment and discrimination.

Continue Reading Coworking Part 3: Interpersonal Employment Law Risks