Addressing Harassment Complaints in Federal Workplaces feature image

Addressing Harassment Complaints in Federal Workplaces

This week, the federal government announced that it is seeking to crack down on federal workplace harassment rules. Newly proposed legislation, Bill C-65, would amend current provisions of the Canada Labour Code.

This Bill is aimed at replacing a patchwork of laws and policies that require updating to address the issues of harassment in workplaces falling within the federal jurisdiction. The new rules propose strict privacy rules to protect the victims of harassment or violence. Some of the workplaces in question include banks (including local bank branches), telephone companies, airports and airlines, most federal Crown corporations (such as Canada Post) and radio and television broadcasting. The federal government also wants to expand the coverage of these rules to Parliament.

The Proposed Framework  

The framework that the government has proposed is based on three pillars:

  1. Prevent incidents of harassment and violence from occurring;
  2. Respond effectively to these incidents when they do occur; and
  3. Support victims, survivors, and employers in the process.

The government also intends to launch an awareness campaign to challenge misconceptions and stereotypes around harassment sexual violence at the workplace. The hope is employers also take steps to change their harassment policies in their workplaces.

The new changes establish a multi-step process for handling complaints of harassment or violence in the workplace. If mediation does not resolve the issue to the complainant’s satisfaction, the employer must bring in “a competent person” to investigate. This person does not need to be from outside the organization, but they should be someone who is familiar with the law and is trained in dealing with matters of sexual harassment and violence. They must also be considered a neutral actor by all the parties involved.

The new changes do not set out any specific disciplinary measures for situations where sexual harassment and violence has been determined to have occurred. The employer need only implement the recommendations made by the investigator.

The federal government argues that the changes would force employers to take action. And those who fail to put in place policies that protect employees will be subject to sanctions. Law enforcement is still available to victims of sexual harassment and violence, and can still report these events to the police if it is appropriate to do so.

Why Now?

The recent flood of accusations of sexual assault and harassment coming out of Hollywood has created a lot of dialogue around workplace conduct. While sexual harassment at the workplace is not something new, most people choose not to come forward for many reasons, including:

  1. Fear of losing their job;
  2. Fear of damaged reputation;
  3. Fear of backlash from whomever they accuse;
  4. Fear of further violence or harassment; and
  5. Fear of ridicule or not being taken seriously.

The recent events in the United States have prompted more discussions on how we as a community, but also how employers can do better to protect those who come forward, and how to prevent these types of events from happening in the first place. The social media campaign “#MeToo” has also played a role in bringing to light how pervasive sexual harassment in the workplace is.

The #MeToo campaign flooded social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Women and men shared their stories of sexual harassment and workplace bullying by men in positions of power, but also by coworkers. This campaign brought to light as to how pervasive the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace is, but also how much sexual harassment women face in public.

While these issues have been brought to the forefront this past year, the government had begun consultations on how to deal with workplace violence starting in 2016 when they began to review the existing laws and regulations under the Code.

Implications

These rules will affect approximately 8% of the national workforce. The federal government has stated numerous times that they hope these changes will inspire the private sector to make similar changes.  

Change needs to happen. Social media has shown that there are far more people out there who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. But a federal survey last month showed the following:

  • ¾ of respondents said they recently reported harassment, sexual harassment or violence.
  • 2/5 of those complaints were never addressed

These survey results are not representative of the population because it was not done by random sampling. However, it does show that there are some issues with how the complaints are handled, if handled at all.

What can you do?

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a very serious matter, and should be treated as such. If you are an employee or an employer who is dealing with a sexual harassment complaint, and you are unsure about what is the right course of action, it may be time to seek the advice of a lawyer as to what your next steps should be. Given the sensitive nature of the issue, you need a qualified and experienced employment lawyer to help you navigate making a claim or how to handle a claim. The employment lawyers at HMC Lawyers can review your situation, and help you determine what the next steps are. To book your consultation, call 1-800-480-3534 or contact us online. We represent individuals dealing with employment-related issues in Calgary and across Alberta.

 

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