The Ongoing Issue of Inappropriate Workplace Behaviour and Overt Harassment 

The Ongoing Issue of Inappropriate Workplace Behaviour and Overt Harassment 

In Canada, sexual harassment, inappropriate workplace behaviour and gender discrimination are pressing issues that not only affect the dignity and mental well-being of individuals but also reflect negatively on our society’s progress towards equality. While many instances of these behaviours are subtle and insidious, making them hard to identify and confront, recent news from British Columbia shows that overt forms of harassment still occur and are rightfully being addressed through the legal system.

Overt Harassment in the Spotlight

Recent cases in British Columbia highlight the severity of overt sexual harassment and discrimination. A Metro Vancouver cafe owner decided to temporarily close her business and find a new location after she claimed to have experienced sexual harassment following an indecent proposal from one of the landlords from whom she leased her cafe’s commercial space. The harassment experienced by the cafe owner illustrates the profound impact such actions can have on individuals and their livelihoods. The decision to close a business due to harassment underscores the economic and emotional toll of such behaviours. It is a stark reminder of the need for more proactive measures to address workplace harassment​​.

In another disturbing case, a man in British Columbia was ordered to pay over $100,000 in a sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination case. This legal outcome is significant as it sends a clear message that the legal system recognizes the gravity of such offences and is prepared to hold perpetrators financially accountable. This case represents the extreme end of overt harassment, where the individual’s actions were so egregious that they warranted substantial injury damages​​. What made this case even more disturbing is how the perpetrator took advantage of his victim’s vulnerabilities and addiction while abusing his position as her employer.

The Spectrum of Inappropriate Workplace Behaviour and Harassment

While these cases are extreme and overt, they exist on a spectrum that includes more subtle forms of harassment and inappropriate workplace behaviour, which tend to be more commonplace. Subtle indecent proposals, such as inappropriate jokes, unwelcome gestures, or implicit expectations of sexual favours for professional advancement, contribute to an environment where more overt acts can take place (especially if others who witness or experience such acts refuse to acknowledge the behaviour and stand up for other victims). The spectrum of harassment often involves an imbalanced power dynamic between the victim, the perpetrator and potential witnesses. Indecent proposals, inappropriate jokes and unwanted gestures, however subtle they may seem, are all part of a culture that sometimes dismisses or downplays the seriousness of harassment, thus making it harder for victims to come forward.

Legal and Social Implications

The legal framework in Canada, including the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, provides protection against such behaviours. However, the subtler forms of harassment often go unreported due to their nuanced nature and the victim’s fear of retaliation or not being believed. The recent cases in British Columbia demonstrate that when overt harassment is pursued legally, there can be significant consequences for the perpetrator, providing some justice and closure for the victims.

Organizational Responsibility

The gravity of these recent cases in British Columbia emphasizes the responsibility organizations have in preventing harassment. Organizations must establish clear policies, training programs, and reporting mechanisms to address all forms of harassment. Moreover, organizations must enforce these policies with a zero-tolerance approach to create a safe and inclusive environment for all employees.

Moving Forward with Vigilance

While the cases in British Columbia are extreme, they serve as a reminder that sexual harassment and discrimination, in any form, are unacceptable. They reinforce the importance of vigilance, education, and a solid legal framework to protect individuals. Organizations and society as a whole must work towards a culture where respect and equality are the norm and harassment, whether subtle or overt, is consistently challenged and eradicated.

In summary, the recent overt harassment cases in British Columbia are a call to action. They remind us that while the fight against harassment includes battling the subtle and often unseen behaviours, it also involves recognizing and addressing the more blatant transgressions. Only through a comprehensive and unwavering commitment to this cause can we hope to see a decline in all forms of harassment and a more respectful and equitable society.

If You Have Questions, We Can Help!

If you’re an employee or employer within BC with questions about employment law, workplace harassment, inappropriate workplace behaviour, or discrimination, our employment law specialists at Spraggs Law are here to help. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at 604 359 1618 or online today.