A recent decision of the B.C. Human Rights Commission makes it clear that employers have a responsibility to create a working environment that is hospitable to all employees; an environment in which sexual harassment is not tolerated.
In Canada, sexual harassment has been found to be a form of discrimination, and as such, in British Columbia, a complaint of sexual harassment in the workplace is governed by the Human Rights Act, S.B.C. 1984, C. 22 and the procedures set out in that Act.
What constitutes sexual harassment? The following are examples of conduct found to constitute sexual harassment:
- Hugging and patting;
- Slapping of buttocks;
- Inquiries as to someone's sex life;
- Repeated sexually suggestive remarks;
- Derogatory references to the complainant and to women in general;
- Constant criticism and sexual taunting;
- Repeated propositions;
- Massaging neck and shoulders;
- Grabbing of breasts or genitals;
- Sexual advances or attacks.
In the recent human rights complaint against a Jimmy Pattison owned car dealership (see Vancouver Province article, Friday, March 22 at page A5), the conduct complained of was references to housewives not belonging in the car industry, jokes inviting the women salespersons for "quickies" and suggestions that the pair used sexual favours to close deals.
The employer in this case did have a sexual harassment policy in place, but that policy did not immunize it from an award of damages The two complaints received a total of $14,743 in damages. The Board of Inquiry found that that policy had not been adequately implemented with the result that the atmosphere at the dealership was poisoned and the complaints of the two women salespersons justified.
The lesson to be learned by employers is that creation of a sexual harassment policy is only the first step, the second mandatory step will be to ensure that it is followed and that sexual harassment is eradicated from the workplace.
For more information on how to draft a sexual harassment policy and implement it at your workplace, call Georg Reuter of Richards Buell Sutton at (604) 661-9208.