It's Never Okay (Part 3): Workplace Sexual Harassment Policies
This article is part of a series on the changes brought in by the Ontario government's Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (aka Bill 132). Learn about the other new protections and resources created by this important new legislation: Overview - It's Never Okay.
Everyone has the right to be free from harassment in their workplace, particularly harassment of a sexual nature. Recent changes in Ontario require employers to take additional measures to ensure the work environment remains safe and respectful for all employees.
The changes brought in with the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (sometimes called Bill 132) amend Ontario's existing Occupational Health and Safety Act in a few key ways. Most fundamentally, the law now specifically recognizes sexual harassment as a form of workplace harassment that employers must have policies in place to respond to. The term "workplace sexual harassment" gains a new precise definition:
Employers must be proactive in preventing and responding to workplace sexual harassment.
- engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, where the course of comment or conduct is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome, or
- making a sexual solicitation or advance where the person making the solicitation or advance is in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the worker and the person knows or ought reasonably to know that the solicitation or advance is unwelcome
Employers are now required to develop written policies which:
- include measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment to a person other than the employer or supervisor, if the employer or supervisor is the alleged harasser;
- set out how incidents or complaints of workplace harassment will be investigated and dealt with;
- set out how information obtained about a workplace harassment incident will be used, and that it will not be disclosed unless necessary (disclosure may be necessary for the purposes of investigating or taking corrective action with respect to the incident, or be otherwise required by law); and
- set out how a worker who has experienced workplace harassment and the alleged harasser will be informed of the results of the investigation and of any corrective action that has been taken or that will be taken as a result of the investigation.
The employer must take appropriate steps to inform their employees of the policy they have in place, and the policy must be reviewed at least once per year to ensure that it continues adequately inform and respond to the needs of employees.
If an investigation into workplace harassment takes place, the employer's duties include ensuring that the investigation is appropriate in all the circumstances and that the complainant and the alleged harasser are informed in writing regarding the outcome of the investigation.
In addition to these changes, the government has the ability to prescribe additional specific requirements for the policies and procedures that employers must have in place to address workplace harassment, so new regulations may be coming in future if it's determined that employers need additional guidance to ensure effective policies are put in place.
The new requirements relating to sexual harassment policies in workplaces came into force on September 8, 2016.
BURLINGTON SEXUAL ASSAULT LAWYERS
The lawyers at Martin & Hillyer Associates advise and represent survivors of sexual assault and abuse in civil litigation claims. You can find out more information about civil sexual assault claims and the services we provide here.
Our lawyers offer free in-person or telephone consultations with individuals who are looking for information about their legal options. Our consultations take place in a supportive, judgment-free and entirely confidential environment. If you would like to speak with one of our lawyers or find out more about our consultation process, please visit our online consultation page, or give us a call.
About the Author
Kennedy is a Burlington lawyer who practises plaintiff civil litigation with the personal injury lawyers at Martin & Hillyer Associates. His focus is on advising and representing people in insurance disputes, personal injury litigation and civil sexual assault claims.