Michael Ford
Employment & Labour, Human Rights

LSO mandates training on workplace sexual harassment

As the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) highlights the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) — and there's a growing awareness of the need to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace — training for lawyers and paralegals is more essential than ever before, says Toronto human rights and employment lawyer Bay Ryley.

While Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) mandates workplace training on sexual harassment, the LSO now requires members of the legal profession to also complete three hours of EDI instruction by the end of 2020.

“Everyone’s talking about sexual harassment and misconduct in every industry — whether it’s law, entertainment, advertising or sports. This is a problem everywhere. With its EDI policy, the law society is trying to address a number of things to make typically excluded groups of people feel safer and more respected in the workplace,” says Ryley, founder and president of Ryley Learning.

While training and other requirements are in place under the OHSA and the LSO, the #MeToo movement has made it clear that employers “need to have a strategy for dealing with workplace sexual harassment and misconduct. If you’re a legal workplace, all your employees must have training. It’s a human resources best practice for employee engagement,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Prior to the law society’s new training requirement, Ryley created an online sexual harassment course for all workplaces, and she’s now modified it for use by lawyers and paralegals.

The course, called “Eliminating Sexual Harassment: Understanding New Legislation and Law Society of Ontario Obligations,” has been accredited by the LSO and counts for 1.5 hours toward the three-hour training requirement. It includes interactive exercises and helps licensees learn how to respond to incidents and complaints of sexual harassment, as well as to harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, she says.

The training modules cover relevant sections of the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Paralegal Rules of Conduct as well as information on the new LSO requirements, such as drafting a statement of principles and introducing human rights policies to address EDI.

The course also reviews the OHSA, which was amended in September 2016 to require all employers, including legal workplaces, to institute sexual harassment policies and training, as well as relevant provisions of the Human Rights Code.

“As employers in law firms and legal workplaces, licensees have a special duty to respect the Human Rights Code in their employment and service of others,” Ryley says.

The course offered by Ryley Learning “is an easy way to comply with the requirements. Lawyers are very busy people. This course is also designed for mobile technology, so you can do it on your phone, on your iPad. You don’t have to do it all in one sitting either.

"It’s convenient, and it’s something that you’re going to engage with. It’s a lot more interesting than these things often are,” she says.

Lawyers and paralegals who take the course might want to recommend it to clients as a best practice for human resources, Ryley adds.

“It sets the tone for making a more safe, accessible and inclusive workplace, and says, ‘This is what we expect of our workers.’

"It can also limit your liability if someone makes a harassment claim because a company or firm can point to the training as having been completed by its workforce.”

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