ON THE JOB & IN PUBLIC: AN EMPLOYER’S DUTY TO PREVENT HARASSMENT

When CityNews reporter Shauna Hunt confronted a group of men after her segment at a Toronto FC soccer match was interrupted by a man who said “f— her right in the p—“, she started a national dialogue about the harassment female reporters have faced on the job since the “FHRITP” trend took off about two years ago.

At least one of the men involved was dismissed by his employer after footage of Ms. Hunt’s experience at the match aired. We know that you’d be putting your job at risk if you engage in this type of behaviour on live TV – but as reporters explained, experiencing this sexist heckling affects their work, too. When you work with the public like Ms. Hunt, how far does your employer have to go to protect you from harassment?

HARASSED BY THE PUBLIC

It’s clear that employers are not only responsible for preventing harassment between co-workers. While it doesn’t look like any cases have considered a journalist’s complaint that her employer didn’t do enough to protect her or respond to her concerns about harassment, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has found employers liable for harassment by customers and contractors who attend at the workplace.

In an early human rights decision, Nixon v Greensides, the Saskatchewan Board of Inquiry wrote:

“The law with respect to the duty of an employer in the area of sexual harassment has evolved over the last number of years…the consideration of harassment of an employee by customers of the employer falls very much into the same category as harassment by one employee of another employee…Sexual harassment has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment. The employer has an obligation to prevent that from happening had the employee has the right to expect the employer will take those necessary steps.”

Other tribunals have followed in Saskatchewan’s footsteps. For example, in a case before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, Lanteigne v. Sam’s Sports Bar Limited, a server at a sports bar complained that a regular customer grabbed her breast while she was at work. She complained to the manager immediately and raised the issue again at a staff meeting a few days later. The complainant was later dismissed. The Tribunal found that the bar’s owner discriminated against the complainant on the basis of sex when it did not take the server’s complaint seriously and act on it in a timely and prudent manner. Because the Tribunal agreed with the server that she had been fired for pursuing her complaint, she was awarded lost wages as well as $3,000 as compensation for injury to her dignity, feelings and self respect and the bar was ordered to develop a policy that covered sexual harassment by its customers.

EMPLOYER’S DUTY

The risk that employers can be held responsible for not responding properly to a worker’s complaint that a member of the public has harassed them poses a unique challenge for news organizations whose employees routinely cover rowdy or emotionally-charged events in public spaces where bans might be impractical or even impossible. Having policies and procedures in place explaining how employers and employees should deal with harassment by the public–and following those policies and procedures when a complaint is made- is an important first step in making journalists and other people who work with the public feel safe on the job.

DECISIONS DISCUSSED:

Ankamah v. Chauhan Food Services, 2010 HRTO 2024 (CanLII)

Wamsley v. Ed Green Blueprinting, 2010 HRTO 1491 (CanLII)

Lanteigne v. Sam’s Sports Bar Ltd, [1998] BCHRTD No 40 (available on WestlawNext)

Nixon v Greensides (1992), 20 . C.H.R.R. D/469 Sask. Bd. Inq

This blog is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you would like legal advice or have questions about your particular workplace problems please contact a lawyer. Our lawyers’ information is available on our Contact Us page.

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