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HR in the news (again)

2 recent news stories pose challenges for HR

By Brian Kreissl

I was planning on devoting this entire blog post to Shauna Hunt. She is the CityNews reporter who recently publicly confronted some soccer fans for their boorish and misogynistic behaviour while she was on camera covering a Toronto FC soccer game.

By now most people have heard the story, and the incident has received tons of coverage in the news media and elsewhere. It certainly is an interesting case study in off-duty conduct, and that’s definitely the angle most people have taken in covering the story (including two of my fellow Canadian HR Reporter bloggers).

Because at least one of the perpetrators lost his job as a result of the debacle, we’ve mostly heard about the impact on the alleged wrongdoers. But I’m actually more interested in the bullying and harassment angle of the story.

After all, Hunt was clearly at work during the incident. Because she was in the “workplace” at the time of the incident, what would her employer’s obligations be with respect to protecting her from bullying and harassment?

While employers have a clear obligation to investigate alleged incidents of bullying and harassment in the workplace, put a stop to it and take appropriate sanctions against wrongdoers, problems arise where the alleged perpetrator is a customer, client, supplier, visitor or even just a bystander. After all, employers cannot discipline or terminate people who aren’t employees of the organization.

But that doesn’t mean employers are powerless in such situations. Organizations can refuse to do business with people who harass their employees. They can also ban them from the premises or even contact the police if the conduct crosses the line into criminal behaviour.

They can also empower employees by allowing them to cut telephone calls short for abusive behaviour or refuse service to obstreperous customers. In Hunt’s case, CityNews did the right thing by airing the footage in which she confronted the bullies and told them how offensive their conduct was. As a result, I bet we’re going to start seeing a lot fewer bystanders chanting “FHRITP” at female journalists (what an absolutely asinine and unfunny prank anyway).

Refusing service to customer with a dog

Around the same time as the Toronto FC incident, there was another workplace-related story that made the news but didn’t get nearly as much attention in the media. According to the Toronto Star, Kaye Leslie was recently refused service at a Toronto Middle Eastern restaurant and bakery because of her guide dog. Citing concerns about the incompatibility of dogs with their halal food, an employee of Paramount Fine Foods refused to let Leslie into the restaurant with her dog Jordan.

The story caught my eye not only because of the apparent infringement of the law, but also because I used to work with Leslie at a previous employer. When the Star interviewed Paramount Fine Foods CEO Mohamed Fakih, he explained the company does allow service animals in its chain of restaurants but blamed the incident on a junior employee who was likely unfamiliar with the company’s operating manual.

Interestingly, the Toronto Star story mentioned a city bylaw but didn’t mention the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA). Both pieces of legislation require accommodation for people with disabilities in the provision of goods and services. Specifically, the AODA Customer Service Standard requires organizations to allow customers onto their premises with their guide dogs and service animals.

While AODA does recognize that other laws may also apply to restrict service animals from certain parts of a business, a government factsheet on service animals explains that in such situations customers can be served in other parts of the premises or the service animal can be made to wait in a safe area. But the legislation doesn’t appear to address the situation in this case — namely the accommodation of religious beliefs that view dogs as unclean.

It certainly is a tricky situation, but according to Fakih, there is no issue with serving halal food in the presence of service animals. While I suppose there might be a problem in allowing dogs into the kitchen, the legislation doesn’t appear to require that.

This case is an HR issue because it illustrates the fact that training and awareness of issues surrounding the accommodation of people with service animals may still be lacking in some organizations.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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