Employment & Labour

Taking workplace sexual harassment complaints to HR

By Kirsten McMahon, Associate Editor

A company’s human resources (HR) department should ensure its “culture and climate” help would-be complainants feel comfortable coming forward with allegations of workplace sexual harassment, Markham, Ont.-based employment lawyer Laura Williams tells Chatelaine.

“From Hollywood to the halls of elected office, workplace sexual harassment has been in the news a lot lately, and according to a recent Canadian poll, more than half of Canadian women have been sexually harassed at least once over the course of their careers,” Chatelaine reports.

The magazine notes the Canada Labour Code requires employers to create a policy against this type of behaviour, and several provinces — including Ontario — have additional occupational health and safety legislation designed to protect against workplace sexual harassment.

The first step in reporting an incident or pattern of behaviour starts with a company's HR department. However, if the complaint is against someone to whom HR reports (for example, the CEO or any vice presidents), an outside investigator or human resources consultancy ought to be brought in to handle it, says Williams, founder and principal of Williams HR Law and Williams HR Consulting.

Most health and safety legislation that covers workplace sexual harassment also has a provision that says employees who come forward with a harassment complaint should be protected from “reprisals” — subtle or otherwise, says Williams. The company could face sanctions for that, either from the Ministry of Labour or through the Human Rights Tribunal, if a case is taken there.

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