Publisher's Desk|Canadian HR Law|HR Policies & Practices|Employment Law|The C-Suite|HR Guest Blog

Some employers are slow learners

Too many firms don't seem to understand workplace harassment is taboo

By Jeffrey R. Smith

Do some employers just not get it?

That’s a question I find myself asking as I see yet another employer having to pay out a significant amount of money to an employee who was harassed — in this case a Manitoba firm shelling out $36,000 to a female worker who apparently suffered harassment by the owner/operator of the business where she worked.

The owner/operator used his position of authority and power over the worker to “degrade and humiliate” her, according to the judgment.

It should be pretty obvious to employers — based on human rights and employment law, social mores and just plain common sense — that workplace harassment is unacceptable. And it’s an issue that’s particularly high on the awareness scale these days with stories in the news like the Jian Ghomeshi scandal, where the CBC is trying to put out fires in the wake of reports that the former radio host’s alleged campaign of sexual assaults included harassment of co-workers in the workplace.

Yet, cases like that of the Manitoba employer above — which had to pay the worker $15,000 for injury to dignity and self-respect, $5,000 for acting with malice and recklessness, and $16,000 in lost wages because the worker was forced to leave her job because of the harassment — continue to crop up. Why?

It may be that the owner or managers at some employers are simply bad people who don’t care about the subject of their bad behaviour. But even then, one would think there would be an element of self-preservation to go with selfish conduct. It’s likely they just don’t think they’ll get caught — and, unfortunately, there probably are some who don’t. Such people rely on intimidation and fear so their victims won’t report the harassment.

But whether harassers are worried or not about getting caught, why do they think such conduct is appropriate, in the workplace or anywhere? Unfortunately, it seems such an attitude is all too common. Maybe there are root causes in upbringing or personal life, as is often seen in the history of abusers, or the power in someone’s position at work just gives them too much of a feeling of entitlement.

Whether we can understand why harassers act the way they do, they can be a big problem for employers. Not only is there a risk of significant damage awards if the harassed workers sue, if things get really bad more serious charges can result. In addition, a miserable worker is not a productive worker and a poisoned work environment can hobble a business.

If an employer as a manager or other employee who is harassing workers, it had better take action quickly. If it’s the head person, such as an owner/operator in the Manitoba case above, he’d better shape up or face the music.

It’s unfortunate some employers in such circumstances would even need a reality check. But it seems some still just don’t get it.

Jeffrey R. Smith

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a publication that looks at workplace law from a business perspective.
(Required, will not be published)
All comments are moderated and usually appear within 24 hours of posting. Email address will not be published.
  • Feeding the problem
    Wednesday, December 10, 2014 11:42:00 AM by Jeffrey R. Smith
    This is the type of thing that some employers are doing when it's a manager doing the harassment. Trying to ignore the problem just doesn't work and eventually it will catch up with them, either with a poorly-motivated workforce or a lawsuit. Pretending it's not happening doesn't make it go away. There have been many cases where employers who do nothing are seen as not living up to their duty to keep employees safe from harassment.