by Anne-Marie Langan
There have been several lawsuits brought by employees against fast food chains, alleging that they were sexually harassed at work and that nothing was done about it when they reported the incident(s). Worse yet, one of the employee litigants alleges that she reported to her supervisor that her co-worker was sexually propositioning her, engaging in unwanted sexual touching, and showing her pornography on his phone, and their response was to reduce her hours.
Many employees at fast food restaurants are high school students working at their first job. As many as 1 out of 2 women and 1 out of 5 men will experience sexual harassment at work at some point in their career, and those between the ages of 15-25 are especially vulnerable. It can be extremely traumatising to witness or experience sexual harassment at any age, and this type of experience can adversely impact a teen’s mental health and vocational aspirations. It is unlikely that a teen would know how to appropriately respond to sexual harassment by a manager, co-worker, or a customer, or where they can go for help.
Most workplaces where teens work have an anti-harassment policy that outlines what behaviours are considered inappropriate and how employees can report incidents of harassment. These are often included as part of a hiring/training package that is provided to an employee on their first day. However, how likely is it that a teen, or any other employee for that matter, will actually take the time to read these policies and, if they do, will understand?
All employers, and especially those with young and vulnerable employees, should consider offering mandatory harassment prevention workshops to all employees and managers.
The Legal Clinic, and many other community legal clinics across Ontario, are offering free virtual workshops for employees and employers about how to prevent and address harassment in the workplace. If you would like more information about these free workshops, please contact The Legal Clinic at 613-264-7153, firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.tlcshiwproject.com.
Anne-Marie is a staff Lawyer at The Legal Clinic in Perth, Ontario, who is currently working on a Public Legal Education campaign for employers and employees about sexual harassment in the workplace. This project is sponsored by the Justice Department of the Government of Canada. Anne-Marie graduated from Queen’s Law in 2004 and completed her Masters of Law at Osgoode in 2009. In the past 6 years she has primarily practiced in the areas of employment law, including human rights in employment and Workplace Safety.