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It's 2015 – and it's never OK

Can sexual harassment in the workplace ever be stopped?

By Todd Humber

It’s interesting to note all three of the stories on the cover of the upcoming Nov. 30 issue of Canadian HR Reporter have something to do with sexual harassment.

This was not a purposeful strategy by the editors here — it’s just that the top three stories all touched on it: the rehiring of the Hydro One worker who was fired after he endorsed rude comments made on live television to a female reporter; the controversy around requiring female wait staff to wear skimpy outfits; and Ontario’s proposed new sexual harassment legislation.

I’ve personally witnessed sexual harassment in the workplace. Unfortunately, I’m willing to bet you’ve dealt with it too — and it is so systemic you don’t have to be involved in HR or workplace law to encounter it.

The first time it happened in front of me, I was a little shellshocked. I didn’t know how to react — I was young and the perpetrator was much older, and in a senior position, at a company that was a key client. My colleague, the victim, was very upset initially but eventually shrugged it off as “Guys being guys. They’re just disgusting.”

Far too many managers are simply not equipped to deal with an allegation or incident appropriately. Here’s a perfect example: A good friend of mine, who works in a unionized environment, was subjected to sexual harassment shortly after she started a new job.

The perpetrator had more than 20 years under his belt. At first, it was just uncomfortable for her but she liked the job and just grinned and beared it, afraid to ruffle any feathers while on probation. But when his advances got more aggressive, she worked up the courage to go to HR — and yes, it takes a lot of courage for a victim to bring a complaint forward.

The reaction from HR was so disappointing — there was no investigation, just a suggestion for my friend to get in touch with the perpetrator and sit down face to face in a room together to sort out the problem. The ultimate solution was to transfer my friend to another location, leaving the perpetrator essentially unpunished (other than a bit of public shaming) and free to prey on other victims.

Sexual harassment is an uncomfortable subject to discuss. But it’s also one that’s not going away, which means that managers — and especially HR professionals — need the tools and training to tackle it appropriately.

Debora De Angelis, a victim of workplace sexual harassment, made an important point in her interview with Sarah Dobson — despite increasing awareness of the issue, there is still a lot of harassment happening. Clearly, the culture isn’t changing fast enough. Laissez faire will not solve it.

In light of the proposed legislative changes, employers with staff in Ontario need to review their policies and procedures relating to sexual harassment. One of the interesting changes is that the Ministry of Labour could order a third-party investigation (at the employer’s cost) if an investigation isn’t done or if the investigation is botched and handled poorly.

One of the best lines to come out of our new prime minister’s mouth occurred when he was asked why he went to such lengths to ensure his new cabinet was ethnically and gender diverse

“Because it’s 2015,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

That same calendar applies to sexual harassment. Any step we can take to make it more taboo, and evoke the culture change De Angelis rightly points out is sorely lacking, is very welcome.

Changes at Canadian HR Reporter

Please join me in congratulating Sarah Dobson, who has been promoted to the role of editor/supervisor for Canadian HR Reporter. Sarah joined Thomson Reuters in 2007 and has taken a leadership role in editorial coverage. You can reach her at sarah.dobson@thomsonreuters.com.

Liz Bernier has been promoted to the role of senior editor for Canadian HR Reporter. Liz joined the Thomson Reuters family in 2014. You can reach her atliz.bernier@thomsonreuters.com.

You will also see some new bylines appearing throughout the publication — Sabrina Nanji and Liz Foster, both editors at sister publication Canadian Labour Reporter, will be lending their talents to the coverage of human resources as well.

My role has also changed to acting publisher/editor-in-chief as publisher John Hobel remains on leave.

We’re excited about these changes, as we leverage the strength of Canada’s strongest and largest team of journalists dedicated to covering the workplace beat to bring you the news, information and trends the way no other outlet can.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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