The Impact of the #MeToo Movement on Labour & Employment


The Impact of the #MeToo Movement on Labour & Employment

The #MeToo movement that arose from the New York Times investigation into Harvey Weinstein resulted in significant and monumental shifts in workplaces and in the manner in which allegations or sexual harassment in workplaces are dealt with by employers. The #MeToo movement generated discussion around the nature and consequences of sexual harassment, leading to an enhanced general understanding. That understanding led to the dispelling of the many myths associated with reports of sexual abuse and harassment and ultimately permeated the manner in which triers of fact assessed evidence in sexual harassment and abuse cases. The movement demonstrated societal support for victims which had the consequence of increasing reporting.

The increased discussion around sexual harassment led to greater public scrutiny, strengthened anti-harassment legislation and an understanding by employers and institutions of the significant reputational risk they faced if sexual harassment occurred. Shifts in workplaces followed with an increased focus on bullying and harassment policies and stronger steps being taken to lessen the occurrence of bullying and harassment. The increased understanding of the nature and consequences of sexual harassment in the workplace extended to our courts and Tribunals, with increased awards for victims and a change in the manner in which evidence was assessed.

Legislative changes included amendments to the Canada Labour Code with enhanced requirements around bullying and harassment and a significant fine for employers who failed to comply. Provincial occupational health and safety legislation has required implementation of bullying and harassment policies, which were implemented with an increased understanding of the nature and consequences of sexual harassment following the start of the movement.

Tribunals and courts, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, have demonstrated an increased understanding of sexual harassment. Decisions since the movement have explicitly recognized that abuse of power is at the root of sexual harassment, that prior sexual history is not relevant to an assessment of whether sexual harassment has occurred, nor is a lack of protest, a delay in reporting or a pattern of consent. The myths and stereotypes surrounding expected behaviours of a victim of sexual assault or harassment has been highlighted by the Supreme Court of Canada. The courts have recognized the evolving social context within which allegations of sexual harassment must be assessed and have applied that social context to shift definitions of sexual harassment.

The #MeToo movement brought about a sea change in the way in which sexual harassment was viewed and elevated the understanding of the prevalence of sexual harassment in our workplaces. It led to increased pressure on businesses, with the expectation now being that workplaces will embody diversity and respect and no longer tolerate sexual harassment. It led to improved policies aimed at eradicating bullying and harassment and providing protections to victims to bring forward complaints. The societal shift that followed the movement greatly contributed to the focus that we now see on diversity, equality and respect in workplaces.

The #MeToo movement and the changes that have followed demonstrate the power that the masses have in focusing and redefining the understanding of an issue.