What do I need to know as a Business Owner about Sexual Harassment?

Uncategorized Oct 24, 2017

I have been asking my readers for suggestions about blog topics. The topic today was suggested by several people. It is a subject that I did not want to write about, but I know that although it may be uncomfortable, it is super important.

The starting place for any business owner is to know that they are responsible to create a business and a workplace that is FREE FROM SEXUAL HARASSMENT.

This blog post will provide some information on how sexual harassment is defined in law and provide some tools to deal with the issue.


Human rights legislation exists in every province and territory as well as in the federal jurisdiction for federally regulated industries. For a complete listing of provincial and territorial human rights agencies click here.

The Human Rights Act (Nova Scotia) link defines “sexual harassment” as follows (my emphasis in bold):

  1. vexatious sexual conduct or a course of comment that is known or ought reasonably to be known as unwelcome
  2. a sexual solicitation or advance made to an individual by another individual where the other individual is in a position to confer a benefit on, or deny a benefit to, the individual to whom the solicitation or advance is made, where the individual who makes the solicitation or advance knows or ought reasonably to know that it is unwelcome, or
  3. a reprisal or threat of reprisal against an individual for rejecting a sexual solicitation or advance.

For more detailed information about how the NS Human Rights Commission would determine if sexual harassment occurred, you can check out their website here and a more detailed document here.


  1. POLICY – You are responsible to prevent sexual harassment and to respond to complaints or concerns. Establish a policy that makes it clear what sexual harassment is and that it is prohibited. This will help to proactively establish a workplace culture free of sexual harassment. Make discussion of this policy part of orientation and ongoing training for all owners, managers and employees. As an owner, remember that you are legally responsible for the actions of your employees. A sample policy from the Canadian Human Rights Commission is here.
  2. COMPLAINT MECHANISM – As part of your policy, your business needs to have an established mechanism for an employee to make a complaint. Depending on the size and organizational structure of the business, there may need to be a couple of possible complaint options, including if necessary, a neutral third party.
  3. ACCESS RESOURCES – In each province of Canada, there is a body like a Human Rights Commission that can assist you to establish policies, training and if necessary, investigate and resolve complaints. Do not be afraid to access these resources before you have a problem.

It is my hope that small business owners will take some time to think about the issue of sexual harassment and take some concrete steps to prevent and address it in their businesses.


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