Himelfarb Proszanski

November 10, 2014 06:01 ET

Himelfarb Proszanski's Employment and Labour Law Group Advises Employers to Be Aware of the Policies and Procedures in Place to Deal with Workplace Harassment and Violence

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Nov. 10, 2014) - According to Soma Ray-Ellis, Chair of Himelfarb Proszanski's Employment and Labour Law Group, employers should be aware that they could be vicariously liable for the actions of their management if a hostile and sexualized environment in the workplace is not corrected. In light of the Jian Ghomeshi case involving CBC in recent news, employers should be aware of liability concerns when it comes to similar situations.

Employers need to be aware that these liability issues can extend to off-site incidents.

If an employer is made aware that an employee is being subjected to sexual harassment, threats or acts of violence, says Ms. Ray-Ellis, the employer then has a duty to investigate the situation. This is mandated by both Human Rights Legislation as well as Occupational Health and Safety Legislation, which again, extends to events held off-site. It's the employer's responsibility to investigate situations that arise in order to maintain a safe, harassment-free work environment-not the employee's.

All employers should have policies and procedures in place to deal with workplace harassment and violence. They should also have dedicated HR personnel equipped to deal with these issues as they are becoming more and more prevalent, first and foremost to protect the employees, as well as to minimize the liability of the employer.

Ms. Ray-Ellis recommends that any employee who has experienced harassment in the workplace should file detailed complaints in writing to their employer. They should ask any witnesses to come forward to support their claims, and preserve any evidence related to the incidents.

Many individuals wait until it's too late to speak with counsel following a harassment incident in the workplace. While it's important to cooperate, it's also important for the alleged harasser to speak with counsel prior to speaking to an investigator to be clear about both their rights and obligations regarding criminal and civil litigation which might arise.

The important take-away from situations like the Jian Ghomeshi investigation is that there are liability concerns for the employer, as it is their responsibility to maintain a safe and harassment-free workplace by investigating concerns as they arise. On the other hand, employees being harassed should come forward as soon as possible.

About Soma Ray-Ellis

Soma Ray-Ellis is a Partner and Chair of Himelfarb Proszanski's Employment & Labour Group. Ms. Ray-Ellis represents companies and executives in all areas of employment law. She has been involved in numerous high profile litigation matters including representing Air India at the Air India Inquiry. Ms. Ray-Ellis is currently Chair of the Employment Group of Consulegis which is an international network of premier law firms with more than 1,700 lawyers in over 45 countries.

Ms. Ray-Ellis has been published extensively her work includes the Halsbury's Laws of Canada volume on Discrimination and Human Rights (Lexis Nexis) and the Employment Equity manual (Carswell). She co-drafted the original "Rules of Practice" for the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and also assisted in drafting the Law Society of Upper Canada Rules of Professional Conduct relating to Lawyers practicing mediation.

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