Toronto employment lawyer Doug MacLeod is applauding the Ontario government’s latest move to reduce sexual violence and harassment in the workplace.
Queen’s Park has committed to spending $1.7 million on a training program to combat sexual harassment in bars and restaurants, part of the broader It’s Never Okay program introduced by the government last year, the Toronto Star reports.
MacLeod, principal of MacLeod Law Firm, says the training program for bars and restaurants may provide insight for other industries as well.
“Are there any lessons we can take out of that industry that we can apply more generally?” he asks. “How do we shine a light on this problem and improve education to stop harassment?”
MacLeod tells AdvocateDaily.com that amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) provide that workplace harassment includes sexual harassment. They also require a written investigation procedure, and the person who investigates workplace harassment must receive appropriate training.
“In the past, if there was a complaint of sexual harassment, it was generally dealt with under the Ontario Human Rights Code,” MacLeod says. “Now, an employee can either file a complaint the Code or under OHSA. In the past, enforcement officers at the Ministry of Labour didn’t have any background or expertise in workplace sexual harassment but that will be changing.”
According to the Star, the government has set aside funds for training that will also apply to community service, aboriginal school and university sectors, teaching workers to intervene safely. About 25,000 frontline hospitality workers will be trained.
“It could be calling the authorities,” Labour Minister Kevin Flynn says in the article. “Maybe it’s saying something to somebody across the bar.”
MacLeod says restaurants and bars may be considered “low hanging fruit” in terms of places that could use sexual harassment training and a good place to start proactively addressing sexual harassment.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he says.
While preventing sexual harassment is not a new government initiative, the program reinforces the area as a public policy priority for the Ontario Liberals, he adds.
“They’re putting money where their mouth is. The government doesn’t believe that voluntary compliance programs were working well enough, so it decided it was time to get proactive and start dealing with the program from a governmental perspective.”
MacLeod says he doesn’t believe most employers consider sexual harassment to be a top of mind issue but they should be aware of changing legislation and ensure their policies are up to date.
“Employers need to know that employees can file a no-cost sexual harassment complaint and the employer has a duty to assign investigators who are appropriately trained to investigate these complaints.”