Harassment, Denunciation, and Employer Liability
23 July 2020
Ms Patricia Chamoun & Ms Cristelle Sary
Legal and Business Advice
Since the beginning of the month, a new wave of denunciations has been sweeping across Quebec. It is shaking up both the artistic and business communities. Complaints of aggression and harassment are multiplying in legal aid clinics. Unfortunately, the delays to be heard by an arbitrator are often long, normally about 18 months. Thus, in the hope of taking justice into their own hands, complainants are taking to social media.
The increase in the reporting of assault and harassment is not just a fad, and is likely to continue over time. Employers have an obligation to their employees to protect them. It is important to give victims a voice because harassment, no matter how serious, disrupts their lives and undermines the work climate, which could lead to the termination of employment, either through resignation or even dismissal. The more serious the problem is or the longer it persists, the more the consequences can erode the organization’s image and the confidence of its employees.
Employers can take the following actions to prevent harassment in the workplace:
5 things you can do to protect your employees
(1) Have a harassment policy in place. As of January 2019, the employer has a legal obligation to adopt a policy for the prevention and handling of complaints. This policy must be a tool that facilitates the management of denunciations and allows the employer to fulfill its obligations;
(2) Make the policy accessible to employees, customers, and suppliers. The policy should be disseminated to all employees, for example at an employee meeting, by e-mail, or by posting it in a place accessible to employees, customers and suppliers;
(3) Carefully select the person(s) of confidence who is/are authorized to receive complaints or denunciations. This choice is paramount. It is important to select individuals at a senior level, such as the person responsible for human resources or the person in charge of internal liaison and communications with senior management. It is also necessary to assign a woman and a man. In the case of small businesses, the employer may use an external human resources consultant;
(4) Correct risk situations by periodically assessing the risk of psychological or sexual harassment, determining the measures to be taken, and setting a timetable for their implementation;
(5) Intervene quickly and support the persons concerned. It is important to meet and discuss with complainants in order to decide, jointly with them, how to intervene and see if it is possible to correct the situation. At the same time, it is essential to offer support measures to the people concerned, such as access to psychologists, external human resources advisors, etc.
An employer must act as soon as it becomes aware of inappropriate behaviour on the part of an employee, client, supplier or other third party. It does not have to wait for a formal complaint or the judicialization of the file. The employer must refer to its internal policy and, in case of doubt, seek advice from its human resources representative or its legal advisor in labour law.
In closing, let us keep in mind that in matters of harassment, “everything that drags gets dirty”.