Most employers understand that sexual harassment at work is against the law. Despite this, sexual harassment is still pervasive in Ontario workplaces. Where managers and employers can get into trouble is the area of sexual solicitation.
The Human Rights Code states that employees have the right to be free from advances in the workplace from those able to offer or deny a benefit – i.e. sexual propositions from a boss with the offer of a promotion are not permissible. This is true where the person making the proposition knows or should know that it is not welcome.
Examples of this type of behaviour – and the real consequences of it – are evident in Anderson v. Law Help ltd.
Safari Anderson started working for Law Help Ltd. as a paralegal. After some time, her boss starting asking her about her plans outside of work. He started with inquiring about what she was doing on Saturday night. He later asked her if she wanted to “go clubbing” with him. He asked whether she would like to “hang out” on the weekend or “go away together” for the weekend. He told her he was thinking about her and that liked her. He told Ms. Anderson he would take care of her, implying that if she spent time with him, she would advance at work.
Mr. Giuseppe then punished Ms. Anderson for not going out with him outside of work. He stopped paying her. He treated her in a hostile manner. He yelled at her and refused to let her attend a medical appointment. Ms. Anderson ultimately had to resign.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario reviewed all of the evidence and found that Mr. Giuseppe’s advances breached the Code. It reiterated that persistent propositions can create a negative psychological and emotional work environment. While the language used by her boss, Giuseppe Alessandro, was not overtly sexualized, it was not allowed under the Code.
The Tribunal ordered Law Help Ltd. and Mr. Giuseppe to pay Ms. Anderson $22,000 for the injury to her dignity along with lost wages she incurred after quitting.
As an employer or manager, asking out a colleague or employee can be expensive, and not because of the cost of the date. Even where there are not sexual or gender-based comments, repeated advances of this nature are not allowed in Ontario’s workplaces. They can affect people’s dignity and sense of value in their jobs. Manager and employers must be extremely careful when engaging co-workers or subordinates in any form of romantic or sexual relationship.
If you have concerns about your employee’s behaviour and would like to speak to a lawyer at MacLeod Law Firm, you can reach us at [email protected] or 647-204-8107.
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