Workplace harassment is devastating. We are now beginning to understand the damage it causes to its victims. It is critical that employers and employees understand what constitutes as workplace harassment to ensure it’s not occurring and to put all measures in place to avoid an incident of workplace harassment.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) defines workplace harassment as “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.”
A few examples include, making jokes that demean, ridicule and offend, displaying offensive photo’s or materials in both electronic and print forms and bullying.
The definition of workplace harassment is broad and incorporates all forms of harassment prohibited under Ontario's Human Rights Code, including sexual harassment.
The OHSA defines workplace sexual harassment as:
- “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 it 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 the solicitation or advance is unwelcome”.
A few examples of sexual harassment include, vulgar humour or language related to sexuality, gender of sexual orientation, invading personal space, inappropriate staring or physical contact and many more.
In order to minimize the risk of workplace harassment, the following processes are recommended to employers: Strengthening workplace harassment policies, providing proper training as well as keeping up with government mandates.
The primary motivation of an employer should be, of course, to provide safe workplaces to their employees. Additionally, the financial cost of a complaint can be considerable.
Consider for example the case in which an Ontario Superior Court awarded a former employee 19 months notice plus an additional 10% for the loss of employment benefits during the notice period and $15,000 in vicarious liability damages, $50,000 in aggravated damages and $10,000 for legal costs because the employer failed to act on a complaint of workplace harassment and failed to take steps to ensure a safe working environment. What is clear from this case and other recent cases is that an employer who fails to take action or respond meaningfully to a workplace harassment complaint can be faced with paying significant damages.
In the event of a complaint or allegation, the OHSA as well as the Canadian Human Rights Act dictates that, an employer has a legal obligation to conduct an appropriate and thorough investigation in a timely manner. The employer must select an “impartial person” to conduct a fair investigation. Though, the “impartial person” is not required to be of a third party, retaining the services of a firm such as The Investigators Group (IGI), with over 25 years of workplace investigation experience is beneficial. This is because our team of investigators remain neutral, impartial, and objective to avoid the risk of internal bias.
By Sean Gladney, Vice-President, The Investigators Group Inc.
For more information regarding workplace harassment investigations, you can contact Sean via email at email@example.com
The Investigators Group Inc. (IGI) was established in 1995 as a full service private investigation and security firm serving individuals across North America. We serve the legal, insurance and corporate communities as well as individuals through our civil and executive services. IGI provides professional surveillance services, fraud investigators, workplace investigations, undercover operations, loss prevention and security services.
Contact us today so we can provide the appropriate investigative solution for all your needs.