My sister has worked for a municipal government in the Greater Toronto Area for over 20 years. During that time, she has developed a serious citrus allergy. This allergy causes a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. For my sister, the allergy is life threatening and requires immediate medical treatment.
Because allergies and scent sensitivities are considered a disability under the Ontario Human Rights Code, employers have a duty to accommodate my sister, short of undue hardship.
My sister provided her employer with the necessary medical documentation so that they would understand the seriousness of her allergy and be able to accommodate her. In response, her employer notified others on her floor about the allergy and asked them not to bring anything into the building containing citrus.
In the same building where my sister works, there is an employee with an allergy to bananas. To accommodate this employee, signs are posted throughout the building reminding employees and visitors alike not to bring bananas into the building. This is typically the minimum that an employer would do to protect employees with scent sensitivities or allergies.
So, while the employer posted signs on each floor reminding people not to bring bananas into the building, the organization would not post signs reminding people not to bring citrus to work—not even signs on the floor where my sister works.
When it comes to buying real estate, they say the three most important things are location, location, location. When considering matters of workplace discrimination and harassment, the three most important things are context, context, context.
Harassment is defined by the Ontario Human Rights Code as “a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.” This definition makes it clear that the act itself needs to be considered in context, because it is not just the behaviour (a course of vexatious comment or conduct) but the context—that is, whether it is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome—that must be considered.
Yes, sometimes there are comments or behaviours that clearly would be deemed to be harassment or inappropriate for the workplace.
For most comment or behaviours, employees, managers, and those investigating complaints must consider the context.