What to do when workplace harassers are members of the public? — Benefits Canada

Steven Dickie

Jun 29, 2018

For employers in Ontario, the process for addressing workplace harassment from customers or members of the public can be more difficult than when it occurs between colleagues, Osler associate Steven Dickie tells Benefits Canada. In her article, author Martha Porado explores the legal obligations and best practices for employers when addressing workplace harassment from the public. Steven, an Employment & Labour expert, says that one reason why this can be trickier is because “an employer can’t compel the offender to participate in that workplace investigation.”

“From a legal perspective, the source of the harassing behaviour being a member of the public or customer doesn’t change the statutory obligations at play, which is for the employer to respond appropriately and perform an investigation that is appropriate in the circumstances,” Steven tells Benefits Canada.

He explains how the source of the harassment could impact the employer’s course of action.

“In some cases, if it’s a customer in a retail or hospitality setting, the individual may not even be identifiable after the fact,” Steven says. “So it may change what an appropriate response may be.”

Employers can consider instituting a buddy system to minimize workers’ chances of being alone when serving the public, he adds, or they could ban particular customers. “It’s about applying the general principles to the circumstances, thinking creatively and taking all reasonable steps,” Steven tells Benefits Canada.

Steven also says that in circumstances where an individual is not an employee of the organization but has a professional connection to it, the organization can reach out to the harasser’s company. “It could involve writing a letter to the respondent’s employer, setting out the results of the investigation and what was determined and formally noting an objection and requesting that that person no longer serve the business,” Steven tells Benefits Canada.

For more information, read Martha Porado’s article “What to do when workplace harassers are members of the public?” in Benefits Canada.