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Top 5 Tips for Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Employers are increasingly concerned about preventing sexual harassment in the workplace – not only to ensure that all workers are given an equal opportunity to thrive in a safe and respectful workplace environment, but also because of concerns around vicarious liability, class actions, and PR scandals.

Based on our experience advising clients with respect to preventative strategies, investigations, and litigation, here are our top tips for preventing workplace sexual harassment:

1. Lead by Example

Having a strong management and human resources team is vital in creating a respectful workplace culture. This may require management-level training on sexual harassment and harassment generally, which should focus not only setting a good example of respectful workplace communications, but also on properly handling investigations in a fair manner.

2. Follow Through

Follow through is key. Policies that are not followed or used will be of little assistance. Ensure that when issues are brought to your attention, they are properly run to ground. Engage legal advice when allegations are particularly sensitive or serious.

3. Harassment Policy

Employers in British Columbia and other Canadian jurisdictions are now well aware of regulations requiring written bullying and harassment policies. Ensure that your policy has a clear way for employees to bring complaints which includes where they should go if their supervisor is the alleged harasser. As seen in the Ontario Soulpepper Theatre claim, employers should also take care to ensure that familial connections or other close relationships amongst management do not lead to employees being afraid to bring forward complaints.

4. Training on Harassment Policy

Employers are well aware of the usefulness of bullying and harassment training. However, consider whether your employees’ training is up to date. Training models even five years ago may be behind the times. Training should discuss both the traditional physical and verbal sexual harassment as well as the more nuanced harassment that occurs when employees are denied opportunities due to their gender. For example, it is a form of sex-based discrimination for a male supervisor to refuse to go for lunch with a female subordinate due to her gender if the supervisor takes male subordinates for lunch, even if the reason for this is the supervisor’s desire to avoid sexual harassment complaints.

5. Other Workplace Policies

We often suggest implementing the following workplace rules, depending on the type of workforce:

  • Technology and electronic communications: put employees on notice that interoffice electronic communications may be monitored by the employer. Implement a respectful workplace communication policy that includes electronic communications.
  • Duty to report relationships: require supervisors to report to human resources or management sexual or romantic interoffice relationships with a subordinate so that steps can be taken to avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Drugs and alcohol: require employees to drink responsibly at employer sanctioned social events where alcohol is served.
  • Travel: restrict employees from holding meetings in hotel rooms.

The lawyers in Lawson Lundell's Labour, Employment, and Human Rights Group are experienced in developing and updating workplace policies, delivering training, conducting workplace investigations, and defending human rights complaints and other types of litigation related to sexual harassment in the workplace. For further information, please contact a member of our group.

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Lawson Lundell's Labour and Employment Law Blog provides updates on the most recent legal developments impacting the Canadian workplace and offers practical tips for employers. We cover a range of topics, including labour relations, employment law, collective bargaining, human rights, employment standards, employment equity, workers' compensation, business immigration, privacy, occupational health and safety and pensions and employee benefits. 

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