Sexual Harassment In The Workplace
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It’s a difficult topic – but one that every employer must know how to address in the event it happens in the workplace. To engage conversation and action, the Ontario Government recently released an action plan to prevent violence and sexual harassment.
Business owners and leaders across Canada will find that the comprehensive It’s never ok: an action plan to stop sexual violence and harassment provides insights into safer workplaces. Daniel Pugen, in the Ontario Employer Advisor published by McCarthy Tétrault LLP notes that the document also outlines “Government’s recommended changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) to deal with workplace sexual harassment”.1
What Are An Employer’s Obligations?
Pugan shares that “employers are already obligated to create a workplace harassment policy and to investigate harassment complaints under the Human Rights Code (the “Code”) and OHSA. Readers may recall that these OHSA obligations were introduced five years ago, under legislation commonly known as Bill 168. Amongst other things, Bill 168 imposed an obligation on employers to create workplace violence and harassment policies and programs, implement a complaint procedure, investigate complaints, and to undertake workplace violence risk assessments and warn employees of certain individuals with a violent history.”2
What Does the Action Plan Propose?
A specific definition of “sexual harassment”; an explicit requirement for employers to assess and address workplace harassment as well as make reasonable efforts to protect employees; a code of practice for employers and more. You can read a synopsis here: New Sexual Harassment Laws Coming Soon to the Workplace.
Managing Workplace and Sexual Harassment Risk
Sensitive and highly emotional situations such as sexual harassment in the workplace are a top-of-mind concern for boards, the C-suite, human resources and any employee who manages others or interacts with volunteers. Founded in 1996, Plan to Protect® is a consultancy that specializes in abuse prevention and vulnerable sector protection.
The organization partners with organizations of any size to “help protect children, youth, persons with disabilities and the elderly from all types of abuse.”3 Specializing in non-profits and community-based organizations, Plan to Protect® delivers many services and tools – including risk assessment – that address the many forms of harassment such as physical, sexual, emotional and neglect.
Assess Risk and Consider Employment Practices Liability Insurance
Employment Practices Liability (EPL) insurance is protection against allegations of errors and omissions and “wrong doing” in the management and administration of human resources (HR), it can be best described as a “HR malpractice policy”. Employment Practices Liability (EPL) Insurance is specifically designed to respond to specific employment exposures.
Brand and Reputation Risk
Employment Practices Liability claims – such as sexual harassment in the workplace – may also lead to reputation damage. Employees, volunteers, current and future donors, sponsors as well as clients will likely become aware of a lawsuit filed by a former or current staff member or volunteer. A well-publicized lawsuit that calls into question corporate ethics and policies may well have a long-term impact on an organization’s brand.
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