Offensive Employee Behaviors and Legal Sanctions

Offensive Employee Behaviors and Legal Sanctions
Consider the following account, adapted from the Canadian HR reporter:

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In a British Columbia human rights case, a store owner engaged in behaviours that could be construed as teasing or as simply crude. Some of these behaviours included:

Reference by the owner to photo processing machines as “female machines” because they “alarm and go off and make a lot of noise” and suffer from PMS (premenstrual syndrome).

Reference to part of the photo process as being like “a little boy going wee”.

Statements that one employee had problems with the machine because her “arms were too short” while he gestured in a manner that indicated that she had large breasts.

When told that these remarks were offensive, the owner, who was of British Columbia ancestry, said, “You Canadians are so backwards because nobody can take a joke”.

Such comments were made frequently, and the complainant said she found them offensive.

Still, there is evidence to suggest that the store owner did not see himself as harassing. He asked that investigators speak with another female employee. This employee confirmed the allegations. She could tell the complainant was embarrassed by the owner’s comments about her.

The complainant conceded that the owner was a good person and a good employer who probably didn’t mean to offend to the degree that he did. He wanted the work environment to be “fun”.

  1. Do you think it is reasonable for an employer to be subject to legal sanctions for the kind of behaviour described above?
  2. Do you think it is reasonable for an employee to be subject to such treatment, even if it is not meant to be offensive but just an expression of a sense of humour?
  3. In a larger organization, what steps should be taken to minimize friction over this kind of behaviour?


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