As a business owner in Ontario, having a friendly and safe environment for your employees can increase productivity. It is also necessary to protect your business from potential legal liability. Below find 4 steps to help protect your business from a workplace harassment claim.
Every business owner knows how expensive, time-consuming, and damaging legal battles can be. Any allegation of workplace harassment is serious and needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible.
You must show your employees and the public that you take the safety of your employees very seriously.
So how can you protect your business and your employees from workplace harassment?
Step 1: Be Informed
“Being forewarned is being forearmed.”
Before you can protect those around you from workplace harassment, you need to understand what it is.
What Constitutes Workplace Harassment?
In the province of Ontario, workplace harassment is defined as:
Words or actions directed at a worker that the worker finds distressing or unpleasant when the person engaging in the behaviour knew or should have known that the behaviour was not welcome.
Common Types of Workplace Harassment
Some examples of workplace harassment may include:
- Sexual pestering
- Inappropriate staring
- Mocking or ridiculing an employee because of their gender identity
- Off-color or highly offensive remarks
- Displaying or distributing sexually explicit photographs
- Jokes that include sexist, racist, or otherwise offensive descriptions
As employment lawyers, we at Bridge Legal highly advise all business owners to develop policies and handbooks specifically outlining the way the business operates – including what is expected in terms of conduct to help prevent cases of workplace harassment.
This brings us to step 2…
Step 2: Have a Well-Written Policy & Employee Handbook
Having a well-written policy is crucial in protecting yourself from legal liability in workplace harassment lawsuits.
Anti-harassment policies should be included in training and literature distributed to employees. The anti-harassment policies should clearly illustrate what conduct is expected and what words or actions are forbidden in the workplace. Additionally, they should outline the specific penalties that will result if employees engage in inappropriate conduct.
What should be included in your anti-harassment and workplace conduct policy?
A good place to start is with the Occupational Health and Safety Act in Ontario (OHSA).
The OHSA describes what is required and expected of Ontario employers in how they manage their workplace. Business owners must protect employees and the interests of their company by understanding the legal requirements. Employees also benefit from understanding the same information so that they can be familiar with their legal rights.
Writing an anti-harassment policy shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is a task best handed over to an experienced employment lawyer like the ones at Bridge Legal & HR Solutions. Their experience writing workplace policies has benefitted many businesses.
But even a well-written policy won’t protect you without training.
Step 3: Employee Training & Record Keeping
You can hand an employee a handbook that teaches them how they need to treat fellow employees and various safety policies, but if you don’t ensure it is read, you still retain some liability.
For example, the organization Schindler was required to pay $60,000 for an accident involving an employee. They had health and safety procedures and policies but failed to ensure and document the training of this employee, who was then hurt.
Employers in Ontario have to inform their employees about workplace harassment and about the organization’s anti-harassment policies.
Finally, employees must understand how to respond when they believe they are being harassed at work.
Step 4: Have Procedures in Place in the Case of Workplace Harassment
Workplace harassment can greatly impact a person’s life. When a worker is feeling fearful or uncomfortable at work because another co-worker is acting inappropriately, this is a difficult situation for both the employee being harassed and the business itself.
Several studies have shown that when employees are happy at work, they are more energetic and constructive. The same studies show that when employees find their work environment hostile or unwelcoming, productivity and emotional well-being decrease. These employees are also much more likely to have disdain for the company itself and be more prone to taking legal action against the company.
Employees Have Rights to Protect Themselves from Abuse at Work
Employees in Ontario have the right to work in a secure and sound work environment.
As such, as an employer in Ontario, you need to be aware of the following:
- Under the rules of the OHSA, employers must have an explicit anti-harassment policy in place. Therefore, when a harassment situation occurs, employees should report it to the person designated in the policy (usually their human resources office or their supervisor).
- After a report of harassment, it is the responsibility of the employer to do an investigation into the claims. The Ontario workplace investigators at Bridge Legal & HR Solutions can help answer your questions and ensure that the investigation is compliant with your workplace policy and the OHSA.
- Employees who are experiencing harassment also have the legal option to make a complaint to the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL). This is particularly true when an employer is not abiding by OHSA requirements or is unresponsive to an allegation of workplace harassment. The MOL may direct that an investigation be done or inform the business that they must connect with an impartial third party to do the investigation.
- It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee that is reporting workplace harassment allegations in Ontario. In this situation, an employee can take action against their employer. This can happen at either the Ontario Labour Relations Board or the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.
- An employee may also quit amid workplace harassment, claiming they suffered from constructive dismissal. This allows an aggrieved employee to leave their pernicious workplace while also allowing them to get severance pay.
These are only some of the avenues of redress that employees can pursue if they believe that a complaint of workplace harassment has not been correctly dealt with.
This is why preventing workplace harassment is your best line of defence.
How an Ontario HR and Employment Law Lawyer Helps Businesses Facing Legal Challenges
When an employee is alleging that they were the victim of a workplace harassment situation in Ontario, the circumstance may intensify and could cause unwanted press and a serious legal challenge for the business.
Businesses in Ontario have a legal obligation to investigate such complaints of workplace harassment by their employees. Consulting with a professional investigation law firm when such an issue arises can be invaluable to employers.
Call the Ontario workplace investigators at Bridge Legal & HR Solutions today at 647-794-5442 to get more information on how a third-party workplace investigator could help you manage your workplace harassment allegations or help prevent future ones.
By working with an external investigator, you can have the situation thoroughly examined – unbiasedly. The findings of the external investigation can then help you determine if workplace harassment happened and help you move forward with how to address it if it did.