The wave of allegations of sexual misconduct has rightly caused many companies to rethink their policies to ensure immediate and diligent investigation of such complaints.

When assertions are made against prominent people in society such as politicians and media celebrities, the question will and should arise as to how these allegations are to be adjudicated. Is the accused person entitled to a presumption of innocence and a fair process before the public makes its finding? Certainly, in an employment context, this should be so. Should this not also follow when the assertions of wrongdoing are aired publicly by reports in social and popular media?

One prominent voice has suggested that this is so. Elizabeth Bartholet, a law professor at Harvard Law School has published her views calling for principles of fairness to govern such circumstances and to avoid a “rush to judgment”. She comments adversely on the “ready acceptance of anonymous complaints” and actions taken by employers to terminate employment without a foundational investigation.  The author also notes the need to “grade” the degree of offensiveness of the alleged misconduct. A request for a date is certainly much different from forced sexual conduct. Indeed, she suggests that not all consensual romance should be banned from the workplace. The article provides an interesting backstop to the impulse to propel the movement of sexual harassment in an unfair manner.

On a similar issue, many people find it alarming that the same school removed law professor Ronald Sullivan Jr. from his role as Faculty Dean of Winthrop House (an undergraduate residence) due to his retainer to defend Harvey Weinstein on charges of sexual wrongdoing. A vocal body of students had led a protest due to the professor’s decision to defend this case. Many believe that this protest has failed to honour the constitutional right to counsel, while the school has defended the decision by saying that there have been over a dozen complaints about the toxic environment created by Mr. Sullivan in Winthrop House since 2016. Mr. Sullivan retains his role as professor.

Get Advice Before You Act

No matter which side of the issue you may find yourself on, these issues require careful debate and consideration. For employers and employees alike, there is a need to provide a proper and fair process in the face of harassment allegations.

If you have questions about workplace sexual harassment or any employment question, contact the offices of Toronto employment lawyers Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins. We regularly advise workplace parties on a wide range of legal workplace issues. Contact us online or by phone at 416-364-9599 to schedule a consultation.