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New policy regarding sexual and gender-based harassment

male-femaleOn March 8, 2011, just in time for International Women’s Day, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a new policy regarding sexual and gender-based harassment. It has been noted that although great strides have been made for women in the past hundred years, there is still a long way to go to eliminate the barriers women face. The new policy deals mainly with sexual harassment in employment, housing and education.

The goal of the policy is to help make people aware of their rights, roles and responsibilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

What is the difference between sexual and gender-based harassment?

Sexual harassment means engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought to be known to be unwelcome.

On the other hand, gender-based harassment is a specific type of sexual harassment: any behaviour that reinforces traditional heterosexual gender norms. It is often used to get people to follow traditional sex stereotypes (dominant males, subservient females), and can also be used as a bullying tactic.

Both sexual harassment and gender-based harassment are violations under the Code.

How does this affect employers?

Employers have a duty to take steps to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and gender-based harassment in the workplace. Tribunals consider the following when trying to decide how well employers have responded to a complaint:

  • The policy and procedures in place at the time to deal with discrimination and harassment
  • How quickly the employer responded to the complaint
  • How seriously the employer treated the complaint
  • The resources made available to deal with the complaint
  • Whether the employer provided a healthy environment for the person who complained
  • How well the employer explained its response (any action taken against the harasser) to the person who complained

In terms of prevention, employers are recommended to have an anti-sexual and anti-gender-based harassment policy in place. The human rights commission’s document offers guidelines on what these types of policies should contain. Also, employers can communicate the policies by providing a copy to everyone as soon as they are introduced, making all employees aware of the policy in the orientation guide, and training employees and people in positions of responsibility about the policies.

The guide also discusses how employers should monitor their environments regularly to make sure they are free of sexually harassing behaviours.

To read more about the topic of sexual and gender-based harassment and policies and procedures, consult the following First Reference Inc. publications:

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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