Toronto Workplace Sexual Harassment Lawyer
Sexual harassment in the workplace is a specific form of workplace discrimination involving comments, jokes, or conduct relating to sex, sexual orientation or gender that are unwelcome or ought to be known are unwelcome. Employees experiencing sexual harassment are protected under both the Human Rights Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Employers are legally required to take action when they become aware of a claim of sexual harassment in the workplace. If they do not, they may become liable to a claim for constructive dismissal.
At Haynes Law Firm in Toronto, we represent employees who have or continue to face sexual harassment at work. The best path forward will depend on several factors, such as whether the employee is still employed by their employer, the role of the harasser in the organization, and the employer’s response or management of the harassment. In some cases, it may be possible to engage with the employer to identify a suitable solution that will allow the employer/employee relationship to continue. In others, the employee’s best option may be to resign and pursue a claim for constructive dismissal.
Our firm’s founder, Paulette Haynes, offers empathetic and accessible representation and advice to employees. She encourages any employee with concerns around sexual harassment at work to speak with her before taking any action, such as resignation, for advice about next steps and how to remedy the situation or preserve their right to compensation should resignation become necessary.
Defining Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Sexual harassment is defined under the Occupational Health and Safety Act as:
- engaging in a course of vexatious comments or conduct against a worker in a workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, where the course of comments or conduct is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome, or
- making a sexual solicitation or advance where the person making the solicitation or advance is in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the worker and the person knows or ought reasonably to know that the solicitation or advance is unwelcome.
Sexual harassment can take the form of small aggressions which continue over time or may be defined by a single incident. The types of behaviours which may be considered sexual harassment in the workplace include:
- discussions or written communications about sexual activities
- jokes related to sexuality, sexual orientation, or gender
- sharing or displaying sexual images or jokes in print or electronic form
- leering or staring inappropriately
- unnecessary physical contact
- jokes or comments about a person’s physical characteristics, mannerisms, or gender expression
- demanding sexual favours
- abuse or threats based on gender or sexual orientation
Employer Obligations Regarding Sexual Harassment
All employers subject to the Occupational Health and Safety Act must have a policy in place that addresses workplace violence and harassment, including sexual harassment. If there are more than five employees in the workplace, the policy must be in writing and posted where employees can easily access it.
As part of the policy, employers must establish procedures for reporting, investigating, and managing claims of harassment. These procedures must include information about:
- Reporting Procedures & Protocols – the process for employees to report incidents of harassment, to whom they should report, and protocols for reporting situations where the employee’s supervisor or employer is the alleged harasser.
- Investigation Process – the employer’s process for investigating claims of sexual harassment.
- Confidentiality – confirmation that information related to the report and investigation will be kept confidential, unless disclosure is necessary to take corrective action, and the safeguards in place to ensure the information is kept confidential.
- Investigation Results – protocols for sharing the results of the investigation and any subsequent corrective action to the reporting employee and to the subject(s) of their report.
Sexual Harassment and Constructive Dismissal
When an employee reports sexual harassment, whether through regular inappropriate behaviour or comments or in a single incident, their employer must investigate and take action when appropriate. If the employer fails to act, or is involved in the harassment, the employee may be forced to resign for the sake of their physical safety and mental wellbeing. In such cases, the employee may have a valid claim against their employer for constructive dismissal.
While constructive dismissal is often associated with situations in which an employer makes unilateral changes to the employee’s role or work environment, it also applies to toxic work environments. For example, courts may find constructive dismissal where sexual harassment was so pervasive that an employee was forced to resign.
Employees contemplating resignation because of workplace sexual harassment should consult with an employment lawyer as soon as possible. Haynes Law Firm provides valuable advice to clients pre- and post-resignation to ensure legal rights and entitlements are preserved and all benefits and compensation owed are received.
Contact Haynes Law Firm in Toronto for Employee Sexual Harassment Claims
At Haynes Law Firm, we represent employees facing sexual harassment at work. For employees who are still employed by their employer, we explore options for correcting the situation through negotiation or mediation or filing an administrative or civil claim.
For employees who have been constructively dismissed due to workplace sexual harassment, we diligently pursue their rights to compensation through litigation. Our firm’s founder, Paulette Haynes, is a confident and adept advocate, representing our clients’ interests before provincial or federal tribunals and in the courtroom. She has the experience necessary to place her clients on equal footing with their employer in any dispute.
To discuss how the employment law team at Haynes Law Firm can assist you, please contact us online, or by phone at 416-593-2731.