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all, damage awards are going up for people who are establishing
they’ve been sexually harassed. Secondly, discipline for employees
who have sexually harassed other employees is more likely to be
Earlier this spring, the Human Rights Tribunal awarded
$50,000 and $100,000 respectively to two migrant workers who
were sexually harassed. (Typical awards up until recently were in
the $30,000 to $50,000 range.) A recent court case saw a singleparent
administrative assistant who was sexually harassed on the
job awarded $300,000 (where a wrongful dismissal charge alone
may have resulted in an award a fraction of this amount).
“It’s clear that the court is really looking for ways to compensate
victims of sexual harassment,” said Thomlinson.
Repercussions in the workplace are
evolving, as well.
“As we become less tolerant, punishment
in the workplace is increasing, too,”
said McNaught. “There used to be a bit of
a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude. Now a sexual
harassment offense is more likely to result
in discipline, and termination is more likely
to be upheld.”
WHO’S AT RISK?
Discipline is more likely to be needed in
certain types of businesses.
“Any industry that’s heavily male-dominated
seems to have more of an issue with
harassment,” said McNaught.
The military, firefighting, restaurants
and even some manufacturing environments
have more than their share of sexual
“We still see a greater number of incidents
in places where, for example, you
have a lot of men together and it’s a macho
boys-club atmosphere,” said Thomlinson.
Workers in owner-operated businesses
are at greater risk, as well. Companies with
corporate structure will tend to take a more
active interest in ensuring they comply with
Canadian law, says Thomlinson, so there
are generally mechanisms in place to protect
the company and its employees against
“Owner-operated companies are
more susceptible to this behaviour,” said
Thomlinson, “because if the owneroperator
is also the harasser, they’re not
going to put measures in place to protect
Then, there are the kinds of industries
that foster a “superstar culture.” In
media organizations such as the CBC,
or law or medicine, you have people in a
high-pressure, high-performance environment operating at the
pinnacle of their profession.
“In those cases, you could have a bad-behaving superstar
who is not only being tolerated but in some cases enabled, and
where people are afraid to complain about the superstar,” said
Thomlinson. “They don’t want to rock the boat or affect the superstar’s
STARTING POINT: POLICY
There’s no way to deter sexual harassment or deal with it effectively
if it comes up without developing a clear and comprehensive
HRPATODAY.CA ❚ OCTOBER 2015 ❚ 21