Area of Law: Human Rights
Answer # 844
Can an employer prevent sexual harassment?Region: Ontario Answer # 844
All employers have a legal responsibility to try to prevent sexual harassment at work. How an employer can do this will depend on the size of the company and the people who work there. Having proper systems in place often go a long way toward preventing sexual harassment.
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), employers are required to have a policy against sexual harassment. In workplaces with six or more employees (or if less than six employees, but ordered by a Ministry of Labour inspector), the policy must be in writing and clearly posted in the workplace Employers are responsible for making sure that the policy will actually help someone who has been harassed. In addition, the policy must clearly state that workers can report incidents of workplace harassment to a person other than the supervisor or employer, where the supervisor or employer is the alleged harasser.
Sexual harassment policies should include a purpose statement, a definition of sexual harassment, who the policy applies to, what the penalties are for breaking the policy, and how complaints should be made and dealt with. It should also include a clear statement that the employer will investigate and deal with all incidents and complaints.
Sexual harassment policies should actually help to prevent sexual harassment. Otherwise, an employer is more likely to be found responsible for any sexual harassment that happens. A good way to have the policy work is to make sure the managers and supervisors understand it and are going to enforce it. At large companies, the employer may want to hold a special meeting to go over the policy. For smaller companies, an employer may want to discuss the policy at a regular meeting with the managers or supervisors. It will then be important to have the managers and supervisors talk to the staff about the policy.
Letting employees know that sexual harassment is unacceptable is a big part of preventing it. For more information about how to write a sexual harassment policy, contact the Ontario Human Rights Commission, or visit ohrc.on.ca
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