Alix Digout – April 2021
Since 1982, the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia (“LISNS”), a not-for-profit organization, has provided accessible, plain-language legal information and resources to empower Nova Scotians to understand their rights and responsibilities under the law. The LISNS’ team includes legally trained, legal information counsellors who are able to comprehensively address questions related to all areas of the law. In 2020, LISNS launched the five-year federally funded (via Justice Canada) Workplace Sexual Harassment Legal Advice Program in partnership with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.
For those who have experienced workplace sexual harassment, it can be a very vulnerable and confusing experience to navigate alone. The effects of harassment are extensive and often impact employees’ health and well-being outside of the workplace. While employers are required to provide their employees with a safe workplace, free of sexual harassment, inappropriate conduct frequently goes unreported for fear of negative consequences and retaliation. Employees may face further complications if their employer does not have appropriate anti-harassment policies and reporting processes in place to combat the behaviour.
The LISNS’ program connects individuals experiencing workplace sexual harassment with private practice lawyers and provides up to four hours of free legal advice to discuss their concerns. The aim of the program is to inform individuals of their legal rights and options moving forward. Workplace sexual harassment is wide-reaching in its effects and does not impact one specific group. Even employees who are not the target of harassment can still report incidents to help eradicate the behaviour from the workplace; this includes reporting harassment from all levels of management.
In addition to legal advice services, LISNS intends to launch two additional awareness/training programs: Bystander Awareness Training and a Workplace Sexual Harassment Reporting App.
The web-based and downloadable app allows for anonymous reporting in addition to legal information, resources, and options moving forward. The user is matched with a trauma-informed support person to share their story. To protect user privacy, the app utilizes leading digital encryption software with an ISO safety approval rating, developed by SimplyCast, an innovative technology company in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
Launching in Spring 2021, the Bystander Awareness Training program will help employers promote respectful workplaces by equipping them with a toolkit of best practices, policies, templates, and communication plans to support their efforts to stop sexual harassment. Similarly, LISNS is partnering with the Nova Scotia Trucking Safety Association to develop tools and supports to deter harassment within the industry. The best practices developed by this initiative will inform LISNS’ efforts to help educate all provincial employers on eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted LISNS’ ability to deliver in-person presentations. Instead, LISNS has developed online sensitivity training resources, which are free and accessible through LISNS’ website at www.legalinfo.org. As restrictions ease, LISNS hopes to engage employees and employers across Nova Scotia by hosting in-person training sessions throughout 2022-2024.
As a lawyer affiliated with the program, I have benefitted from LISNS’ training programs to ensure I am providing inclusive, culturally competent, and trauma-informed services. These skills are invaluable and extend beyond sexual harassment complaints into the entirety of my practice. I am thrilled to play a role, however small, in such a progressive and timely access to justice initiative.
Other Services Offered by LISNS:
- legalinfo.org – LISNS’ offers an interactive website, featuring a live-chat function and e-mail services (to answer legal questions), as well as a wide-ranging database of legal information and resources.
- Legal Information Line – a free service providing general guidance about the law and legal processes. If specific legal advice is required, individuals are referred to the Lawyer Referral Service or other available options for detailed advice.
- Lawyer Referral Service – access to an initial 30-minute consultation (for a fee of $20, plus HST) with a private practice lawyer to discuss legal issues, available options, and associated costs.
- Mediator Referral Service – Initial consultation with a mediator (for a fee of $20, plus HST) to determine if mediation (and/or another form of alternate dispute resolution) is appropriate in the circumstance.
For more information about LISNS and its programs, please visit www.legalinfo.org.