Canadian Olympic Committee Scandal Provides Lessons on Harassment Prevention

Posted by Kenneth N. Winkler on

In October 2015, former Canadian Olympic Committee (“COC”) President Marcel Aubut resigned from office in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal.  The COC has since announced that it will commit to making significant changes to its workplace policies and procedures to improve the work environment.  The particular changes include:
  • Enhancing harassment policies, including adding a “duty to report” provision and a mechanism for filing complaints that doesn’t require reporting to the CEO or president.
  • Educating employees, including a mandatory training session for staff and board members on harassment policies and procedures.
  • Strengthening re cord-keeping to document complaints and how they have been addressed.
  • Ensuring a means by which individuals can lodge anonymous complaints.
  • Providing an independent resource to whom individuals can express concerns, such as an ethics commissioner.
  • Emphasizing respect and well-being as the COC’s core values for employees.
  • Ensuring employees are aware of a whistleblower’s policy, and continually monitor employees’ views and confirming enforcement of policies.
In addition, the COC reportedly approved the hiring of senior and designated human resources leadership to ensure a safe and healthy work environment. Although the scandal occurred outside of our national borders, the recommendations are sound and are applicable to any U.S. employer who desires to be proactive in combatting sexual harassment.  In particular, the recommendations stress the need for a harassment policy that provides an adequate complaint procedure that encourages employees to feel comfortable bringing complaints forward. The recommendations also recognize that merely having a policy is not enough. Training employees about the policy is a critical component to preventing harassment and creating a positive work environment.  Moreover, in some situations an employer can avoid liability for harassment if it can establish that it implemented an anti-harassment policy and educated its employees about the policy. The beginning of the year is a great time to review and update your employment policies and implement harassment training.