Not Preventing Sexual Assault and Harassment in the Workplace is Now More Expensive

Jun 22, 2018

On average, damages awarded to an employee for a breach of the Human Rights Code, remain relatively low, typically $10,000 to $15,000. However, the HRTO recently released two significant decisions that reflect a willingness to award higher amounts. Both decisions involve sexual assault and sexual harassment against women in vulnerable circumstances.

In both cases, the owners of the companies were found to be personally liable along with the corporations.

The Cases

In A.B. v. Joe Singer Shoes Limited et al, 2018 HRTO 107, the employee worked for Joe Singer for 28 years. The allegations made by A.B. were of atrocious conduct. She stated that she was forced to perform oral sex, intercourse, and degrading sexual conduct. She accused her employer of watching pornography in his office. Her employer also criticized her skin colour, accent, and body. Although she had issues with her memory in her testimony, the HRTO still preferred her evidence, and found company and the owner both responsible for the sexual assault and sexual harassment. The HRTO ordered the respondents to pay $200,000 as compensation for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect.

Following Joe Singer, the HRTO released G.M. v. X Tattoo Parlour, 2018 HRTO 201. In X Tattoo, the applicant was a 15-year-old woman whose employer engaged in unwanted sexual discussion and forced the applicant to engage in sex acts. Looking to the Joe Singer decision, the HRTO awarded $75,000 in general damages (the maximum that the applicant had requested).

Lessons

Most employers would hope and believe that their staff and management would not engage in the conduct seen in Joe Singer and X Tattoo. However, the bar for the maximum damage awards has increased. We can expect that the average award level will also increase.

Employers need to ensure:

  1. that they create a workplace culture of no tolerance for harassment and violence. This includes having the appropriate policies and training in place;
  2. that they respond promptly to every sexual harassment complaint and investigate all complaints as well as incidents; and
  3. that those who come forward do not face punishment or reprisal for doing so.

For over 30 years, MacLeod Law Firm has been advising employers on all aspects of the employment relationship. If you have any questions about dealing with sexual assault or sexual harassment complaints and allegations and would like to discuss them with a lawyer, please contact me at [email protected] or 647-633-9894.

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