Federal Human Rights Award for Sexual Harassment

Written on behalf of Peter McSherry
Background Shape/Fill/Blue Shaded

A Hamilton woman has recovered a damages award for sexual harassment against the Canada Revenue Agency. The complainant had worked for over 30 years as an appeals officer at the CRA Office in Hamilton.

It was found that her immediate supervisor had sexually harassed her both at the workplace and on evenings and weekends away from the office. The offensive behaviour took place over a period from May to October 2010 at which time she reported the conduct. There had been no suggestion that she was in any way a willing participant.

An independent investigator had found that there were 13 different incidents of sexual harassment. It was found that the female complainant had been subjected to almost daily unwanted attention. On two occasions, was had received a “backrub”. The male offender gave her compact discs of love songs, invited her repeatedly for rides home, sent evening texts and made comments that he was watching her home and sent her sexually suggestive email messages.


The Canadian Human Rights Act, unlike the Ontario equivalent, has a cap on compensatory damages of $20,000. When the conduct is offensive or high-handed, an additional sum of “up to $20,000” may be awarded. Both these maximum awards were allowed in this instance plus a further sum of $23,000 for out of pocket therapy costs.

Also unlike Ontario, it is relatively easy to hold the employer responsible for the offensive actions of a co-employee or a subordinate employee or a peer employee under federal law. This is an important distinction.

As stated, the Ontario Tribunal is not subject to an upper limit for awards of compensatory damages. However, it also does not have the incremental damage award for unfair conduct, as was allowed in this case. The highest award allowed under Ontario law to date was for $200,000 in damages. This is rare. Often there may be a claim for lost wages which was not the case in this instance.

There are also other avenues of relief in the form of civil actions. These options should be discussed and reviewed in detail with experienced legal counsel. Each decision needs to be weighed carefully.

Get Advice

Regardless of increased public awareness of sexually inappropriate behaviour in the workplace and the resulting damage awards under the law, this behaviour continues to persist. Get advice as soon as you can, if you are facing similar circumstances. 

If you are facing the need to take action due to this offensive behaviour, it is time for real legal help. Get advice. Know your rights. Contact the offices of Guelph employment lawyer Peter McSherry. We can guide you through the issues and defend your position. Contact us online or by phone at 519-821-5465 to schedule a consultation.