Workplace Sexual Harassment

Compensation for Injured Feelings – B.C.

B.C.

The factors to be considered, generally, are the nature of the conduct, the vulnerability of the victim, and the impact upon them. 1 The principles are similar to those reviewed in Ontario.

Until 2001, the highest award for sexual harassment was $10,0002. In 2011, the sum of $12,500 was ordered due to harassment3 which was found to be demeaning, provocative and aggressive, yet without any physical component.

$15,000 was ordered in a case involving verbal sexual harassment, including requests for sex4 and inappropriate touching.

The awards have risen since 20015 and generally have generally followed a similar range as in Ontario. In Harrison v. Nixon Safety Consulting and others (No. 3) the Tribunal awarded $15,000 for sexual harassment. In a case involving termination of employment, the Tribunal awarded $35,000 for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect. 6 The award of $25,000 in Ratzlaff 7 was made when the applicant was sexually assaulted by the owner of the company in a hotel room where the work crew was stationed out of town8.

The tribunal allowed an award of $40,000 in a 2019 in which the complainant was persistently verbally subjected to sexual innuendos. 9

The same sum was ordered in a June 2020 decision. 10 The relationship was one of trust, involving a domestic worker and her employer. The respondent was found to have sexually assaulted the complainant by touching her breasts, inserting his fingers into her vagina, and placed her hand on his penis.

The sum of $50,000 was awarded in a case in which the employee, hired as a nanny, was treated in a sexually and emotionally abusive manner. She was required to leave the employ after 6 weeks, without financial support and without Canadian immigration status allowing her to work elsewhere. 11

A recent decision of the B.C. Human Rights tribunal has awarded damages for injury to dignity in the sum of $100,000. 12 The complainant was employed as the personal executive assistant to Sydney Hayden. She was sexually assaulted, emotionally abused, physically assaulted and abandoned in a foreign country. She suffered from a drug addiction which the responding party used to his advantage. Her wages were also withheld. The respondents did not defend the case.

This is the highest amount awarded for damages for sexual harassment and assault in B.C.

Many of these cases cry out for an award of punitive damages, a remedy which requires a specific statutory authority. Sexual harassment cases are often direct, physical, abusive and display the intent of the wrongdoer seeking personal gratification, often in a position of superior power. These claims differ from the "normal" cases of human rights violations. More statutes should allow such an award.

Until recently, the highest award had been $75,00013 This award was based on a mental disability. The award was set aside on a judicial review application as “patently unreasonable” on first review, yet later restored by the Court of Appeal. This decision was set aside upon judicial review but later reinstated by the Court of Appeal. The latter noted that the tribunal should not be bound by what had been considered as a historic “range” of damage awards and that is was not “patently unreasonable” for the tribunal to award a sum in excess of the prior maximum, given proper consideration of the evidence before it.

The January 2021 decision of the B.C.H.R.T. allowed an award of $176,000, after a 20% risk discount, to a complaint based on adverse treatment due to race. The applicant, a corrections officer, had suffered serious mental injuries due to the conduct of the Ministry of Justice. 14 This is an unprecedented award.

A recent Tribunal decision concluded that, given termination of employment, the range of compensatory awards is from $10,000 to $30,000. A 2023 decision from the same Tribunal set the compensatory award at $50,000 due to adverse treatment in the workplace due to race. 15.

The low end of the scale is likely in the range of $3,000 to $4,000. In a situation where the conduct was limited to offensive language, yet insensitive and demeaning and persistent, made to a vulnerable young woman in need of employment, without physical contact, with modest psychological impact, the sum of $4,000 was set as proper compensation16.

An award of $5,000 was made in a context of verbal offensive conduct, without affirmative evidence, medical or otherwise of the impact upon her, a disparity in age between the victim and the offender, yet causing the termination of the complainant’s employment, in part, due to her refusals17.