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Sexual harassment of female chefs in Canada in spotlight

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue which can have serious ramifications for employers and workers if it goes unaddressed. At present, the issue has arisen in Canada regarding the sexual harassment female chefs face in the workplace.

The conversation was prompted by a lawsuit filed by a female pastry chef against three male chefs. According to the 24-year old woman, she endured groping, badgering about her personal life and was propositioned, among other things. In addition, she said a one chef routinely made jokes about ejaculation as he sprayed hollandaise sauce on her face. When she indicated she did not like the activities, they allegedly threatened her employment. After the woman reported the problem, she said one chef "waged war" against her. She ultimately filed a human rights complaint.

Another female chef commented on the case indicating that behaviour the woman reported is common in restaurant kitchens everywhere. Despite this, the president and senior editor of Canadian Human Rights Reporter indicated that there are few cases of this nature brought by chefs in the record. There are however, a high number of complaints filed by other young women working in restaurants as waitresses.

How this particular case will be resolved is unclear. In the meantime, restaurants throughout Canada are having discussions about what type of behavior is acceptable in the kitchen. Most would likely agree that the fact these discussions are occurring is a good thing.

The British Columbia Human Rights Code prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. In addition, sexual harassment can form the basis of a bullying and harassment complaint for compensation with WorkSafeBC. All workplaces in British Columbia have a duty to promote and provide a safe working environment and so employers have a duty to investigate allegations of sexual harassment that arise at work.

Sexual harassment may take many forms, a factor which often results in evidentiary difficulties and can make for difficult workplace investigations. Accordingly, both employers and employees confronted with a case of sexual harassment in the workplace can often benefit from retaining an employment lawyer who can provide valuable advice on resolutions for employees, as well as conduct and advise on workplace investigations for employers.

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