Workplace harassment training is a crucial component for every business. This training ensures all your employees and managers comprehend the rights and obligations applicable to them, and have the tools to prevent workplace harassment incidents that lead to a hostile environment occurring. Importantly, this training also provides them with the understanding and tools to handle challenging situations, such as claims through the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO).
When your management team is focused on enhancing work performance, they may lose sight of the duty to safeguard employees from potential hazards and workplace harassment. As an employer, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your management team is trained to identify when employees feel uncomfortable it may be that they are experiencing workplace harassment, comprehend its consequences, and effectively fulfill the company’s commitments to tackle it.
Neglecting this can expose your company to a wide range of liabilities, including claims for compensation if an employee reports harassment.
Understanding Workplace Harassment
In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) defines workplace harassment as engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. This definition covers unwelcome acts or words that a reasonable person would consider offensive, whether delivered in person or through any other medium.
The OHSA‘s definition extends to remote workplaces, where harassment can occur through inappropriate digital interactions, such as emails, text messages, virtual meetings, or social media platforms.
In practice, what does this mean? Workplace harassment covers a broad range of conduct. The targeted worker may experience the following, singularly or in combination, including and not limited to:
- Physical violence, physical attack, or physical assaults,
- Psychological harassment, including bullying
- Emotional harassment, including giving co-workers the silent treatment, withholding resources, or withholding preferred work assignments,
- Unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature, including:
- unwanted sexual advances,
- sexually suggestive remarks,
- sexual assault,
- unwanted physical contact,
- offensive pictures,
- Discriminatory comments, offensive remarks, put-downs, offensive gestures, or offensive jokes on topics such as:
- National origin
- Ethnic origin
- Gender identity
- Family status
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
Even a single incident can constitute harassment in the workplace. Employers must advise workers about the many forms of unwelcome conduct and protect workers from a hostile work environment.
Both employers and employees should conduct themselves in a respectful and professional manner at all times. Employers must take preventive measures to reduce and eliminate occurrences of offensive conduct.
The Significance of Workplace Harassment Training
Workplace harassment training plays an integral part in fostering a welcoming atmosphere. By offering this comprehensive training to your management and employees, you demonstrate a commitment to creating an inclusive workplace and preventing harassment.
It’s crucial to remember that a well-constructed workplace harassment policy and regular training sessions instill confidence in your employees that their concerns will be taken seriously, should they experience harassment.
Regular presentations and seminars educating management about their obligations can be pivotal in maintaining a harassment-free work environment.
Here are the main reasons why such training is critical:
- Legal compliance: In Ontario, it’s your legal duty to protect your employees from workplace harassment. By offering appropriate training, you ensure your organization is compliant with all relevant laws, including the OHSA and the Ontario Human Rights Code (Code).
- Prevention: Training empowers your employees and management to identify, prevent, and report harassment. By promoting awareness and establishing clear expectations, you build a culture that discourages harassment from occurring.
- Risk mitigation: Comprehensive training can reduce your exposure to potential liability. It displays your commitment to addressing harassment and can serve as evidence of reasonable precautions taken to prevent and respond to incidents.
- Employee welfare: By offering training, you’re expressing your commitment to your employee’s safety and well-being. This helps cultivate a supportive work atmosphere where employees feel valued, protected, and respected.
Employer’s Obligations when Workplace Harassment is Reported
When employees report incidents of experiencing workplace harassment, you have specific responsibilities to ensure a fair and comprehensive investigation. These responsibilities include:
- Taking the complaint seriously: Each harassment allegation must be treated with gravity and empathy. Responding swiftly and demonstrating a commitment to resolving the issue fosters a supportive environment for the victim and discourages further harassment.
- Conducting a fair investigation: You should initiate an impartial investigation into the reported incident. This may involve gathering evidence, interviewing relevant individuals, and documenting findings.
- Maintaining confidentiality: Confidentiality must be upheld throughout the investigation process to protect the privacy of all parties involved. This confidentiality allows victims to come forward without fear of retaliation.
- Taking appropriate action: If the investigation substantiates the harassment complaint, you must take appropriate disciplinary or corrective action against the harasser. Actions taken should correspond to the seriousness of the misconduct and be consistent with company policies and employment laws.
If you do not investigate harassment complaints or if an employee feels that the investigation is not being properly conducted, then the employee may complain to the Ministry of Labour, who can then order you to conduct an investigation, in addition to other fines and sanctions.
In addition, if the you do not properly investigate a harassment complaint, it may lead to a toxic workplace, and the employee who was harassed may be able to claim constructive dismissal against the organization. In either instance, it is important for you to investigate a harassment claim once the employer has become aware of the harassment.
How Achkar Law Can Assist
Achkar Law is committed to helping employers effectively address employee harassment issues. Our skilled employment lawyers offer the following services:
- Workplace Harassment Policy creation, review, and update
We can assess your current workplace harassment policies and assist you in formulating comprehensive policies that adhere to legal requirements and best practices, targeting the specific challenges of remote workspaces and offering clear guidance to your employees.
- Training programs
Our customized employee harassment training programs are designed to suit your organization’s needs. These interactive sessions educate employees and management about harassment, its impact, prevention strategies, and reporting protocols, thus equipping them to help create a harassment-free work environment.
- Investigation support
Our lawyers can help conduct fair and comprehensive investigations into harassment allegations. We handle complex cases, including those in remote work settings, ensuring a thorough, fair investigation process that respects the rights of all involved.
- Legal representation
Should your organization face legal issues related to harassment, our employment lawyers can provide skilled representation, advocating for your interests, helping you navigate the legal process, and aiming for a favourable outcome.
Contact Achkar Law
At Achkar Law, we value the importance of tackling employee harassment and establishing a secure work environment. Get in touch with us today to schedule a consultation with our experienced employment lawyers. We can help you design effective harassment policies, offer training programs, conduct investigations, and provide comprehensive legal assistance.