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CRA ordered to pay more than $60K to worker sexually harassed by boss

Canadian PressTHE CANADIAN PRESS

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has been ordered to pay the maximum compensation to an Ontario employee who was sexually harassed by her boss after the federal labour board found the organization failed to take steps to prevent it from happening.

A panel of the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board says the agency must pay the worker $20,000 for the pain and suffering she experienced as a result of the harassment.

The board says the organization must pay the employee another $20,000 for "the reckless manner in which it handled the initial investigation of her complaint.''

The agency must also reimburse the woman, who worked at its Hamilton office, for nearly $23,000 in out-of-pocket expenses related to her treatment.

In a decision released earlier this year, the board says while the agency quickly launched an investigation in 2010 after the employee filed a sexual harassment complaint against her direct supervisor, it failed to provide a safe level of physical separation between the two.

The board also found it "very problematic'' that the CRA tried to send her to an office in another city in order to separate her from her supervisor, then moved her desk to another area against her wishes when she refused the switch.

The burden to create a harassment-free workplace should not be on the person being harassed, the board said, noting the CRA's response exacerbated the woman's illness, causing her to be on sick leave for months.

"[The employee] had done nothing wrong. At a time when she most needed the support of her colleagues and a safe and secure workplace, the CRA thought it might move her workplace to another city to solve its own problem,'' the board wrote in its ruling.

"This was a shameful way to find an easy way out of a situation that demanded urgent attention and it added additional stress and harm to [the employee].''

Instead, the organization should have confronted her supervisor with the evidence that was readily available within days of the complaint and, after allowing him to address the allegations, either placed him on administrative leave or taken other steps to protect the employee, it said.

In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Toronto workplace violence and elder abuse consultant Denise Koster says it’s “a classic case of a lack of due diligence.”

In the two years that it took to complete the investigation, Koster, principal of Koster Consulting Associates, says “It could be surmised that the adverse working conditions not only affected the complainant, but all employees working in the agency.”

She suspects other employees have lost faith in the employer, which may result in “a future hesitancy to file any complaints.”

Koster, who was not involved in the case and comments generally, says employees are already hesitant to formally report harassment, particularly when it’s sexual in nature.

“Complainants often fear that they will be retaliated against by their employer for making the complaint, particularly if the respondent is in a leadership position,” she says.

“They can also be unintentionally — or even intentionally — re-victimized by being put on leave or relocated.”

Koster says the approach is often “masked” by employers who claim they’re just trying to protect the victim.

“One of the most controversial best practices when receiving a complaint is to put the respondent on formal notice and then place them on a paid leave of absence,” she explains. “This practice not only protects the complainant and others from further unwelcomed behaviour but also ensures that the integrity of the investigation is maintained.”

Koster says the CRA case could also constitute criminal harassment or stalking, in addition to workplace harassment.

“The respondent allegedly continued his unwanted pursuit of the complainant outside the workplace by texting her and sending provocative messages to her personal email,” she says. “Even more alarming, he made comments that led the complainant to believe she was not safe in her own home. The workplace boundaries were definitely crossed in this case.”

The harassment began shortly after the man became the team leader of the woman's section, part of a "cadre of predominantly male managers'' overseeing a team of mostly female employees, the decision reads.

She experienced "almost daily unwanted attention while she was captive at her desk,'' the board said. One two occasions, the supervisor touched her while she was at her desk, with one of those incidents described as a back rub, it said.

He also made and gave her two CD mix tapes of love songs and told her to listen to them only at home, it said.

Over five months, he invited her to coffee or lunch, offered her rides home, embarrassed her by sending her chocolates in the office mail, sent her sexually themed emails to her personal email account, texted her outside work hours and made "disturbing'' comments that suggested he was watching her home, the board said.

She eventually reported the harassment, prompting management to intervene, it said. After presenting her with several options, including switching offices and working from home, management moved her desk, it said.

The harassment continued, however, as her new location was still visible from the supervisor's office, allowing him to leer at her as she walked by, the board said.

Management also failed to press him on the content of the CDs or request a copy after he admitted to giving music to her and other staff, the board said. Had they done so, they would have discovered the recordings involved "When A Man Loves A Woman'' and "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,'' both by Rod Stewart, it said.

The board also found the CRA had inadequate training on sexual harassment and presented no evidence that the man had attended a training session.

It recommended the agency consider a more comprehensive program to raise awareness of what sexual harassment is, how to identify it in the workplace and how to prevent or stop it, among other things.

Two weeks after reporting the harassment to management, the worker filed a grievance. The investigation took about two years. The supervisor was moved out of her division and into another and was disciplined with a six-day suspension without pay.

– with files from AdvocateDaily.com

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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