Feds investing $2.7M in online tool for understanding workplace harassment laws

The Canadian Women’s Foundation, AfterMeToo and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network is receiving more than $2.7 million from the federal government to create an online tool that will educate employees who’ve experienced workplace harassment or violence about their legal rights and how to report their experiences.

The project, Roadmap to Future Workplaces, aims to help federally regulated employees and employers better understand new regulations under Bill C-65. The bill, which will come into effect next year, is aimed at strengthening workplace harassment and violence prevention efforts. It will also protect political employees under Canada Labour Code’s occupational health and safety and harassment and sexual violence protections for the first time.

Read: How #MeToo movement is changing way employment law views harassment

“I can tell you there’s a lot of work to do [in educating employers],” said Patty Hajdu, the minister of employment, workforce development and labour, at a media event in Toronto on Friday. “I think the more that we have developed by organizations that have expertise in this area, that understand . . . how we create the space to have those conversations and develop those tools that are effective, the more we’re all going to be able to move forward together.”

The project also aims to create robust, sector-specific education on legal rights and procedures through digital and in-person training for employees. It will help employers and unions develop customized action plans, noted Hajdu, “so there’s a concrete process for organizations to take steps to tackle the issue of workplace harassment and violence.”

The funding will come through Employment and Social Development Canada’s workplace harassment and violence prevention fund. Five other projects received funding in March.

Read: Lessons from a workplace harassment investigation gone wrong

The online resource will be hosted on Rosa, AfterMeToo’s platform compiling information on topics such as workplace harassment laws, how the judicial system works and how to document an incident when it occurs and file a report. It will also provide digital and in-person training for employees.

Also speaking at the event, actor Mia Kirshner, one of three co-founders of AfterMeToo, said the project hopes to address two challenges: a lack of employee understanding of workplace harassment laws or how to make their employer accountable if they aren’t following them; and getting leadership to change systems in their workplaces.

“Our goal is to work with leadership to see that there’s a lot more transparency, and to lead to independent adjudication and investigation and to arm workers with their rights and choice,” she said.

Read: B.C. university employee alleges sexual harassment, university denies claim

Kirshner noted the information available online is scattered across many different web pages and often written in complex and inaccessible legal jargon. “It shouldn’t be like that, which is why we put it online in one place.”

The idea for Rosa came before the #MeToo movement, based on Kirshner’s own experience trying to find information on reporting instances of sexual harassment. “It’s too difficult to report, and we have to make it easier to get information so you can hold someone accountable. You need to know how to save your evidence, how to document something when it happens.”

Women who’ve experienced instances of workplace harassment or violence know the process “is hell,” she added. “The last thing you need to do is a macabre scavenger hunt online.”

The organization is aiming to have the platform up and running by January 2020 with information available in English and French. The aim is to translate it into at least three additional languages in order to make sure it serves the most vulnerable workers.

Read: Women more likely than men to experience workplace harassment: Stats Can

“We need to make sure the platform is translated and accessible to that workforce. If we don’t, . . . we risk [shoving their stories back underground].”

Paulette Senior, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, said during the media briefing that she hopes the resource will “level the playing field” for people reporting instances of harassment.

“We have to acknowledge there is a significant power imbalance that exists,” she said. “Being able to level that playing field is about arming folks with tools so they can come forward in a way that empowers them and . . . feel comfortable doing that because there is a responsive, responsible process.”