The Canadian news has been inundated in recent days with disturbing stories about sexual harassment and violence against women, most notably in the (yet unproven) case of former CBC star Jian Ghomeshi.
The former "Q" host stated (in a much publicized Facebook post) that he had been fired by the CBC on October 26th due to actions in his private life (notably his preferences for rough sex and BDSM). He vehemently declared that these interactions were always consentual. A Toronto Star story has revealed there are at least nine women who claim to have been assaulted by him and deny they ever gave their "consent."
From an HR perspective, news that he may have engaged in sexually harassing behaviour within the workplace (again, unproven) and that it may have happened over an extended period of time is particularly distressing. Executives from the public broadcaster state that they are not aware of any workplace complaints, although there have been reports to the contrary. One story suggested that representatives from Western University discouraged their students from interning on Ghomeshi's program due to concerns about his "inappropriate" behaviour. As the media firestorm rages on, The Toronto Star reported that the CBC has hired a prominent employment lawyer to investigate accusations involved in this case.
Another disturbing news story
Perhaps even more shocking, two male Members of Parliament were suspended from the Liberal party due to "serious personal misconduct" related to how they dealt with two female New Democrat MPs. The exact nature of the alleged misconduct is not known and both men deny any wrongdoing.
Montreal MP Massimo Pacetti and Newfoundland MP (and Liberal ethics critic) Scott Andrews were both suspended by party leader Justin Trudeau and barred from running in the next election pending an investigation. If female Members of Parliament can be subject to abuse, is any workplace immune?
Open the floodgates?
These high profile news stories are shining a spotlight on unacceptable behaviour and may encourage victims to come forward instead of suffering in silence. The widespread nature of this issue (a recent report by the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) revealed that an astonishing 90% of women in the service industry state they have been sexually harassed at work by customers and/or co-workers) suggests that HR professionals and business owners may receive new complaints as a result of a perceived shift in society's tolerance for this behaviour.
How your company can get prepared
Have you considered how your business would handle an accusation of harassment, sexual or other? The Government of Canada released a guide for managers faced with conducting a harassment investigation in 2013. One critical component is the use of an objective, potentially 3rd party to investigate the validity of the complaint. Utilizing an external lawyer or HR consultant who will not be influenced by existing relationships with those involved could help mitigate some of the risks involved in this delicate process.
Here are some other tips from the HR experts at Clear Path:
Do you have questions or concerns? Please contact Clear Path's Anna Aceto-Guerin at (519) 624-0800 or firstname.lastname@example.org with any of your HR questions.
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