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Employer responsibilities dealing with sexual harassment complaints

Nobody wants to be in a situation in which they have to face workplace sexual harassment.

In most provinces and territories, the employer often has a responsibility to step in and deal with the situation. However, not every province or territory is required to have a workplace harassment, let alone a sexual harassment policy in place.

The Canada Labour Code

Under the Canada Labour Code, federally regulated employers have definite responsibilities to make every reasonable effort to make sure that no employee is exposed to sexual harassment in the workplace.

Accordingly, the employer must issue a policy on sexual harassment that must contain at least the following:

  • A definition of sexual harassment that is substantially the same as the one in the Code;
  • A statement to the effect that every employee is entitled to employment free of sexual harassment;
  • A statement to the effect that the employer will make every reasonable effort to ensure that no employee is subjected to sexual harassment;
  • A statement to the effect that the employer will take disciplinary measures against any person under his or her direction who subjects any employee to sexual harassment;
  • A statement explaining how complaints of sexual harassment may be brought to the attention of the employer;
  • A statement to the effect that the employer will not disclose the name of the complainant or the circumstances related to the complaint to any person unless disclosure is necessary for the purposes of investigating the complaint or taking disciplinary measures in relation to the complaint;
  • A statement informing employees of their right to make a complaint under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Provincial/territorial employer responsibilities

Similarly to federal employer responsibilities in dealing with sexual harassment issues at the workplace, provinces/territories also have guidelines that dictate how employers should deal with sexual harassment in the workplace.

As of fall 2018, five provinces have prohibited sexual harassment in their Human Rights Codes: British Columbia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec.

While in provinces like Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan there is occupational health and safety legislation that requires employers to have a violence prevention program in place.

Then there is Quebec, which has legislation on workplace psychological harassment.

Unfortunately, employers in other provinces currently don’t seem to be legally obliged to address this issue through workplace policies.

However, that doesn’t mean that employers in provinces/territories where there are no sexual harassment policies in place don’t have obligations to prevent or deal with these issues.

That is because employers still have a duty to provide a poison-free environment. In most provinces and territories there are duties imposed on employers to take action if they found out an employee is being subjected to sexual harassment.

Be advised laws are constantly changing and it’s likely that the provinces and territories will eventually put in place rules that will require employers to have anti-sexual assault policies.

If you have experienced sexual harassment at work and need legal assistance consult a lawyer.

Read more:

Sexual Harassment - Government of Canada

Preventing and responding to sexual harassment - Ontario Human Rights Commission

Overview of Human Rights Codes by province and territory in Canada (January 2018)