Sexual discrimination and harassment in the workplace is a serious issue that can have severe consequences for both the victims and the employer. In some cases, even if the offender is the owner of the company, the company itself can be held jointly and severely liable for any claims of sexual discrimination and harassment that occur.
A recent case, A.B. v. C.D., 2022 HRTO 890, before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) serves as a reminder of this principle. In this case, the owner of a small business was found to have repeatedly engaged in sexual discrimination and harassment against one of their employees. The employee, a single mother, was employed in various roles from 2007 until her resignation in 2014. Shortly after she commenced employment, the Owner was abusive and discriminatory. He reportedly yelled at her, belittled her, called her names, and disparaged her. Her doctor recommended that she quit. In 2011 she resigned because of the stress, but returned to work later in that same year because she could not find another job. Despite the fact that the owner was the offender and a directing mind of employer and was responsible for a poisoned work environment, the HRTO found that the company was jointly and severely liable for the employee's suffering.
In addition to protection against sexual discrimination and harassment in the workplace the Ontario Human Rights Code expands the protection against a “poisoned work environment” as a form of discrimination in section 5(1) of the code stating clearly that such an environment will exist when a particularly egregious, stand-alone incident or a serious wrongful behaviour sufficient to create a hostile or intolerable work environment that is persistent or repeated enough that it becomes a condition of the complainant’s employment.
The reasoning behind this decision is that the company, as the employer, has a responsibility to provide a safe and respectful work environment for all employees. When the owner of a company engages in sexual discrimination and harassment, they are not acting as an individual, but rather as a representative of the company. As such, the company can be held accountable for their actions.
This case serves as a reminder that all employers, regardless of size or ownership structure, have a responsibility to prevent and address sexual discrimination and harassment in the workplace. This includes implementing policies and procedures to address such behavior, providing training and education to employees, and taking appropriate action when such behavior is reported.
In conclusion, it is important for all employers to take a proactive approach to preventing and addressing sexual discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Failure to do so can result in the company being held jointly and severely liable for any claims that arise. The case A.B. v. C.D., 2022 HRTO 890 serves as a reminder of this principle.