What in many industries began as a trickle of whispers and rumours has, in the past few weeks, swelled to a flood. New allegations and admissions of workplace sexual harassment seem to be surfacing daily. As prominent individuals in various fields are taken to task for their misconduct, it appears that we might be approaching a watershed moment. New public belief in, and support for, survivors will likely continue to embolden them to speak out against their harassers.
With so much public attention focused on sexual harassment in the workplace, it seems that Bill C-65 could not have come at a more appropriate time.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHCR) defines sexual harassment as “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought to be known to be unwelcome.” The OHRC further describes it as a form of discrimination that can “undermine [a worker’s] sense of personal dignity… prevent them from earning a living, doing their job effectively, or reaching their full potential.”
Everyone has the right to a sexual harassment free work environment and Ontario employers have a legal obligation to make efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment. If sexual harassment in the workplace is ongoing and unaddressed despite complaints, the victim of the harassment can potentially quit and claim constructive dismissal.
In the workplace, serious sexual harassment offences can result in immediate termination for cause for the perpetrator. However, minor offences should be addressed with progressive disciplinary measures. Bosses, supervisors and individuals in positions of power will be held to a higher standard of professional conduct in the courts due to the power imbalance between them and their subordinates. The negative impacts of sexual harassment can poison an entire work environment with decreased productivity and poor morale.
Bill C-65 and its Origins
Bill C-65 (or, for those not concerned with brevity: An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Budget Implementation Act, 2017) was introduced by the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, Patty Hajdu and had its first reading on November 7, 2017. The bill proposes legislative changes to amend the Canada Labour Code to better address sexual harassment in federally regulated and government workplaces.
In 2016, the Ministry of Employment began a lengthy consultation with Canadians to assess the state of sexual harassment in federal workplaces and determine the best way to mitigate and remedy this affront to so many workers’ dignity and ability to earn a living.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace – Bill C-65
Through an online survey and a series of roundtable meetings with stakeholders, participants were able to share their issues and experiences with regards to sexual harassment in the workplace. The resulting report yielded the following key findings:
- Sexual harassment often takes the form of ongoing inappropriate behavior and is vastly
- Most people who experience sexual harassment in the workplace are women.
- There is a strong desire to reduce incidents and improve the way in which they are handled.
- Participants emphasized the importance of training and education as preventative measures.
- There is a clear desire for written policies for addressing complaints and protection from retribution for those who file them.
Proposed Changes With Bill C-65
At present, sexual harassment protections for government and federally-regulated employees are covered under the Canada Labour Code. However, sexual harassment is covered by a separate, weaker section of the Code than physical and psychological violence. Furthermore, federal workers can’t access the Canada Labour Code’s complaint processes that lead to investigations, prosecutions and penalties.
If passed, Bill C-65 would provide stronger protections for government workers (i.e. MPs, Senators) and workers in federally-regulated industries (i.e. banking, transport) against sexual harassment. Bill C-65 would require federally-regulated and government workplaces to:
- establish policies to prevent and protect against sexual harassment in the workplace;
- establish a process for impartially addressing complaints. (This process can involve mediation or bringing in a qualified outside individual to investigate complaints and make recommendations.); and
- investigate, record and report all occurrences of harassment.
Consequences For Sexual Harassment Under Bill C-65
However, the Bill does not set consequences for perpetrators should harassment be determined to have occurred. Consequences for sexual harassment will continue to be left up to the employer. However, the proposed legislation would work in tandem with the criminal justice system to which complainants are encouraged to report incidents.
Bill C-65 follows in the wake of Bill 132 which requires employers to have a policy for responding to complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Sexual Harassment & Human Rights Complaints Legal Experts
KCY at LAW specializes human rights complaints such as sex discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace and other matters of employment law. Call to book your consultation on (905) 639-0999 or contact us online!