Sexual harassment is a very common phenomenon in Canadian workplaces and non-profit organizations are not immune. Regardless of the workplace all employers and their governing bodies are legally responsible for ensuring that they provide a safe environment for all staff members, volunteers and clients. These types of situations can be very complex and if your organization is held liable for mishandling a sexual harassment complaint it can have a devastating impact on it’s finances and the morale of staff, volunteers and clients.
If you are on the Board of Directors of a non-profit organization your fiduciary duties are to act in the best interest of your organization, manage the organization’s risks, ensure that the appropriate policies are in place and that the policies are being followed.
Here are some tips on how boards can prevent, manage and avoid liability for sexual harassment:
a) Do a risk assessment of your organization to see whether there are any concerns about sexual harassment which aren’t being properly addressed;
b) Have a committee of board members and staff/volunteers whose role is to assist management in handling sexual harassment complaints and that reviews the sexual harassment policy of your organization on a regular basis;
c) Invest in mandatory training your managers, staff and volunteers to recognize and respond t sexual harassment;
d) Ensure that everyone in your organization is aware that there are clear consequences for anyone who has engaged in a verified incident of sexual harassment
e) Ensure that any victim of sexual harassment is being adequately protected and supported going forward.
The Government of Ontario has published a very comprehensive document called “Code of Practice to Address Workplace Harassment” which includes templates for employers of sexual harassment policies, complaint forms, investigation interviews, etc.. It can be found for free online at: https://www.ontario.ca/page/code-practice-address-workplace-harassment.
If your board is not sure how to handle a sexual harassment complaint you should immediately seek legal advice from a legal professional familiar with employment law.
The Legal Clinic is currently offering free virtual seminars for employers and non-profit organizations about sexual harassment. If you are interested in attending a seminar (via Zoom) please contact The Legal Clinic at 613-264-7153 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.