What The #MeToo Movement Can Teach Us About Workplace Sexual Harassment
Time Magazine has named the women who were pivotal in bringing workplace sexual harassment into the international spotlight as Time’s Persons of The Year, and for good reason: The #MeToo movement has propelled very serious issues and particularly the barriers and obstacles faced by sexual harassment victims into the spotlight. We can only hope that the movement will usher in a transformative shift in the way employers and employees think and behave when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace.
In this blog we discuss some of the steps that employers can take to make sure you’re doing everything you can to prevent sexual harassment in your workplace and deal with it appropriately when reported.
1) Have a clear unequivocal policy against workplace sexual harassment and make known the consequences.
Every employee in Ontario has a right to work free from sexual harassment in the workplace and employers have an active obligation to protect employees and prevent such conduct in the workplace.
Make sure your anti-sexual harassment policy clearly and broadly defines what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace so that that there is no room for confusion about comments or behaviour that constitute sexual harassment and make it well known what the consequences are for employees who break the rules. Provide examples.
2) Make sure all employees know about the policy, how to file a report and how these types of complaints are investigated and addressed.
Ontario Employers also have a positive obligation to respond to sexual harassment complaints. An Employer must respond to any such harassment that they are aware of, whether or not it’s been reported, swiftly and treat the situation seriously.
Make sure the policy is discussed with all employees, have the employees sign an acknowledgement that they have read the policy and have the policy easily available and accessible in a workplace manual or internal work portal.
Make sure you have clear policies about how to report sexual harassment confidentially in the work place and what steps a reporting employee can expect will be taken to investigate and address the reported behaviour. Ensure that it is clear to any employee who reports such harassment what steps you as the employer are taking to address the situation to restore a healthy and comfortable environment.
3) Take steps to avoid incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Take active steps to ensure all employees know what type of conduct or comments are inappropriate for the workplace and work events. Be clear about how the policy extends to informal or off hours work events such as Christmas parties. Schedule refresher meetings to reinforce information about the policy. Encourage employees who witness inappropriate behaviour, whether it’s targeted toward them or not, to report the behaviour and foster a workplace culture that encourages shared responsibility among all employees to create a workplace free from sexual harassment.
4) Create a workplace culture that promotes equality, diversity, caring and inclusion.
Managers and leaders should establish core values that promote diversity, inclusion and set standards for behaviour. Promote an environment which encourages victims to come forward. Be cognizant of the workplace culture, policies and environmental risks that lend to such incidences in the workplace, including power dynamics and gender balance.
As we have seen with the many celebrities who have been called out in recent days for their behaviour, frequently those with power, or who are seen as valuable to the company, have gotten away with harassment, and even criminal behaviour while victims are demoted or even fired. This should not be tolerated and the damage to an employer and employees caused by such conduct is incalculable.
Check out our other blogs on employment law topics here.
Are you an employer who needs some advice about your workplace policies? Contact us to see how we can help or check out our employment law practice page for more information.