Laws designed to address sexual harassment have been at the front and centre of reforming workplace practices in recent years. As the government has come to acknowledge, many issues had been left neglected for too long and they are now realizing that all people deserve to earn a living in a workplace that is free from harassment and violence. Fortunately, more and more workplaces are investing in training programs on sexual harassment, allowing everyone to be better informed about legal and illegal behaviours.
With unacceptable behaviours no longer being tolerated, it was necessary to enact appropriate legislation to provide a framework for the new norm. Below you’ll find an outline with facts about eight different workplace sexual harassment laws:
1. Government of Canada and Bill C-65
In late 2018, Bill-C 65 received Royal Assent. Designed to protect employees from harassment and violence in federally regulated workplaces, the bill will come into force in 2020.
An adjustment to the Canada Labour Code, the objective of these workplace sexual harassment laws is to bring in amendments that will protect all workers, including those in extended jurisdictions, by creating a robust approach to addressing harassment and violence in the workplace.
Overall, the proposed new regulations aim to help employers prevent and protect employees against these behaviours, to respond when they occur, and to offer support to employees affected by them.
2. Repealing part of the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations
The new workplace sexual harassment laws will require repealing Part XX of the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, which was the part of the regulations designed to address violence prevention in the workplace.
References to the current Part XX will also be repealed from all other Government of Canada’s occupational health and safety regulations.
3. The legal definition of sexual harassment
In Canada, sexual harassment is defined as any conduct, comment, gesture, or contact of a sexual nature that is likely to cause offence or humiliation to any employee. This definition also extends to any act that might, on reasonable grounds, be perceived by that employee as placing a condition of a sexual nature on employment or on any opportunity for training or promotion.
Thankfully, in recent years, this definition has come to be interpreted much more broadly, with an emphasis on seeing the situation from the point of view of the accuser. Many behaviours that were considered standard procedure before are no longer tolerated.
4. Every employee is entitled to protection from sexual harassment
Under the Canada Labour Code, every employee is entitled to employment free of sexual harassment. Although this was formerly the case, there has been a push to educate employees and let them know what their rights and responsibilities are in terms of sexual harassment.
As the culture has shifted towards believing victims, more employees are finding the courage to speak out when they feel that their rights have been violated under the workplace sexual harassment laws.
5. Employers have a responsibility to prevent sexual harassment
That being said, the onus is not simply on the employees to make a claim after the fact. By law, every employer is required to make every reasonable effort to ensure that no employee is subjected to sexual harassment.
Every employer, after consulting with employees or their representatives, must issue a comprehensive policy on sexual harassment. This policy must be clearly outlined and address certain mandatory criteria.
6. Required statements of responsibility in the sexual harassment policy
In order for the policy to pass muster under the current legal framework, it must contain a definition of sexual harassment that is substantially the same as the one in the Code.
In addition, there should be a statement that every employee is entitled to employment free of sexual harassment, and a statement that the employer will make every reasonable effort to ensure that no employee is subjected to sexual harassment.
Finally, there should be a statement claiming that the employer will take disciplinary measures against any person under his or her direction who subjects any employee to sexual harassment.
7. Required guidelines in the sexual harassment policy
Furthermore, the document should explain how complaints of sexual harassment may be brought to the attention of the employer.
It should contain a guarantee that 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.
Finally, the policy must inform employees of their right to make a complaint under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
8. Informing employees about the sexual harassment policy
Of course, the policy is only helpful if employees have access to it and understand its content. It is therefore required that employers post, and keep posted, copies of the sexual harassment policy where they are likely to be seen by employees.
Many organizations have also implemented mandatory training to help familiarize their employees with any new policies or to simply emphasize the existing policies that might have been ignored in the past. These trainings also offer a chance for people to discuss their understanding of sexual harassment and work towards a more unified understanding of the harm it causes.