Earlier in 2016, West Jet hired a professional services firm, Ernst & Young, to conduct an independent review of the airline’s workplace harassment policies. The review was conducted between March and July 2016, and the findings were quite revealing. The results indicated, among other things, that West Jet’s workplace policy and practices had not been updated in almost a decade, its staff members were not properly trained to handle issues consistently, and workplace issues were not being properly monitored or followed up upon.
The report was released in the wake of sexual harassment and class action law suits commenced by Mandalena Lewis, a former flight attendant, against West Jet. Interestingly, Ernst & Young articulated various findings in its report regarding West Jet’s failings without having spoken to any complainants or reviewing any of the harassment files.
Although Lewis’ sexual harassment and class action lawsuits have yet to be tested at trial, the report by Ernst & Young raises the importance for employers to review and update their workplace policies, enforce policies consistently, and educate employees about workplace policies and procedures. To do otherwise, an employer could potentially be exposed to liability for constructive or wrongful dismissal where:
The complainant can establish that he or she suffered sexual harassment in the workplace and the employer did not adequately respond;
The employer did not complete a fair investigation before terminating an employee for sexually harassing behaviour towards another;
The employer terminates an employee who complains about having experienced sexual harassment.
Simply put, employers must ensure a workplace free of harassment. This can be achieved by implementing and promoting appropriate policies, and by developing a framework (with a level of confidentiality) to respond to harassment allegations in the workplace.