As a manager or business owner, it’s your moral and legal duty to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in the workplace. With a comprehensive harassment policy, an easy reporting process, and clear consequences, you can build a workplace that’s safe for all of your employees.
The Canada Labour Code lays out specific requirements for employers regarding sexual harassment. First, you must take all reasonable preventative measures to protect all employees from sexual harassment; this might include educating workers about unacceptable behavior or training managers to spot and eliminate problems early on. Canadian law also requires you to write a sexual harassment policy and post it prominently in your workplace. Keep in mind your province may have additional requirements; check your local Human Rights Code for specifics.
Writing a Sexual Harassment Policy
Your company’s sexual harassment policy is the foundation of your anti-harassment activities. Bear in mind the Canada Labour Code lays out the items that must be included:
- A definition of sexual harassment
- An acknowledgement of your employees’ rights to harassment-free employment
- A guarantee to make every reasonable effort to prevent harassment in your workplace
- A promise to discipline any employee who harasses another employee
- An explanation of your company’s complaint process
- A promise not to disclose names or circumstances unless it’s necessary for investigations or disciplinary procedure
- An explanation of your employees’ rights to make complaints under the Canadian Human Rights Act
Since serious complaints can lead to legal issues, it’s a good idea to work with your company’s attorneys in writing a sexual harassment policy.
Chances are, your employees come from varying backgrounds. These different life experiences can lead to wide-ranging views on what is and isn’t considered sexual harassment; a statement that seems innocent to one person might be highly offensive to another. Training is one way to get all of your employees on the same page. It might even be required by your province; in Ontario, the Human Rights Code requires employers to educate their employees about their rights, identifying sexual harassment, and making complaints.
Reporting and Disciplining
Your company’s reporting plays a big role in the success or failure of your sexual harassment policy. If employees are afraid of retaliation, or if they worry their complaints won’t be taken seriously, they’re less likely to report incidents. Over time, this fear can lead to legal problems and a toxic workplace culture. You can help by creating a safe, confidential reporting process and by treating each complaint equally. Consider using more than one reporting process so your employees can feel comfortable; you might consider encrypted online forms, in-person meetings, and written complaints.
Once a complaint comes in, it’s important to investigate thoroughly. Interview both parties, speak to witnesses, and collect evidence. Work with your legal team to make sure you’re following the best procedure. If there’s proof of harassment, it’s crucial to follow through with the disciplinary procedures in your sexual harassment policy, no matter who is accused. When employees see that the rules and consequences apply to everyone, it can help prevent future problems.
As a small business owner, it’s your responsibility to build a safe, comfortable workplace. By adhering to the Canada Labour Code, writing a clear policy, and following through with consequences, you can send the message to employees that you do not stand for harassment of any kind.