Posted September 28, 2018 11:23:10 A new law in Canada that prohibits companies from firing workers who are accused of sexual harassment is drawing ire from some workers and human rights advocates.
The HR Bill, which passed second reading on Tuesday, requires companies to report sexual harassment to the Canadian Human Rights Commission within 90 days of being reported.
It also bans the use of “inappropriate language” when making a decision on firing.
The bill, which is now before Parliament, also requires companies that employ more than 50 people to conduct a “review” of sexual misconduct complaints within two years.
Human rights advocates say it is a step too far for a country that prides itself on its inclusive culture, and it could open the door for companies to fire workers simply because they are female.
The legislation was tabled in response to a series of high-profile workplace complaints involving female executives, including one that led to the resignation of CEO Mike Cush.
The government is hoping to win the support of all levels of government to get it passed, but some business groups are concerned about the impact it could have on women’s careers.
The Bill is one of several pieces of legislation introduced in recent weeks by the Liberals that will require companies to conduct more detailed and transparent reviews of sexual-misconduct complaints.
Critics argue that the bill will not do enough to ensure that women in the workplace are protected from sexual harassment, as well as prevent companies from being able to retaliate against workers who report sexual abuse.
Some workers are worried that the legislation will lead to companies firing people for their complaints.
“The HR Bill does not address sexual harassment,” said Kristine Stoll, executive director of the National Council of Women, a Canadian lobby group that represents about 50,000 women in public and private sector positions.
“I think this is a major blow to the ability of companies to protect women in Canada.”
The HR Act also requires employers to publish a list of complaints made to the commission within 90 calendar days of the incident.
It does not require companies, but does require companies with at least 50 employees to provide the list to workers who file complaints.
The list will include the name, address and telephone number of the employer.
“It’s just a way to make it more difficult to report an issue,” said Stoll.
“When I first heard about this, I thought it was kind of funny.
It’s like a joke.
And then it turns out it’s actually a serious threat to women’s safety.”
In a report to parliament, a coalition of groups called the Canadian Alliance for Women said it will continue to push for a national system of reporting harassment.
The coalition, which includes some of Canada’s biggest employers, said the HR Bill “will provide an opportunity to shine a light on what can happen when women are under pressure to keep quiet.”
It also says the legislation does not go far enough, and is a clear attempt to silence victims.
“We believe it’s a step in the wrong direction,” said Catherine Coady, a lawyer with the Canadian Centre for Justice and Peace who specializes in workplace issues.
“There’s a huge opportunity to make sure that women feel safe to come forward.”
In April, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which represents about 40,000 businesses across the country, said it was “deeply concerned” about the HR Act and “strongly opposed” to any changes to the bill.
The federal government has also said that the proposed changes are in line with the “Canadian values” it promotes.
“Sexual harassment is a human rights issue, and we welcome a review of the legislation to make clear that there is a gap in our current approach to this issue,” a spokesperson for the minister of labour said in an email.
“While the legislation is not yet law, the government is committed to working with the public, businesses and other stakeholders to ensure it is passed.”
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario is currently hearing two cases against a man for allegedly sexually harassing an employee at a hotel in Toronto.
The judge will rule on the man’s request for a “fair trial,” in which he will argue that he is being discriminated against because of his gender.
He is asking for a retrial.
A spokesperson for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Canada said the government would have no comment until the case is resolved.
“This bill has been passed with the support and co-operation of the government, so it is not possible to comment on any particular aspect of this legislation,” said a spokesperson.
“Human Rights and the workplace is an important component of the mandate of the Human Rights Act, and Canada is committed not only to respect and defend the rights of all Canadians, but also to uphold the values of fairness, fairness and inclusion that we believe are foundational to Canada’s democratic and human-rights system.”