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February 17, 2016

The sexualized work environment of Austin Mahone’s Dirty Work

AM - 2The cringe-worthy The Office-inspired video for Austin Mahone’s “Dirty Work” has been viewed over 22 million times, and provides a good example of how not to behave in the workplace.

As we recently explained, the Ontario Human Rights Code requires bosses and other people in positions of power to refrain from any unwanted romantic and sexual advances. This is a good practice in general, and in the workplace, the failure to do so is a breach of the Code. It amounts to unlawful sexual solicitation.

In the “Dirty Work” video, Mahone’s character is put in charge of a new hire. He immediately hits on her, and they have a sexual encounter in the board room – all on her first day at the new office. Not good.

The sexual solicitation provision in the Code recognizes that there is a power imbalance between employees and those who can “confer a benefit” on them. Needless to say, an employee on his or her first day of work is in a very vulnerable position. New employees face the pressure to prove themselves capable and trustworthy, and they also face pressure to fit in with the workplace culture. All of this operates to make it difficult for new employees to stand up to unwanted attention.

Often a human rights claim for unlawful sexual solicitation is part of a suite of alleged breaches of the Code. Here, for example, an employee would very likely also claim that the employer created a “sexualized work environment.” The men of the “Dirty Work” video ogle the new hire as she walks to her desk. The music pauses for co-workers to comment on Mahone and the new hire’s physical appearance. In the final scene, there is a wild party in which co-workers dance and take off some of their clothes.

AM -1It’s a shame that the video is so crudely literal, because the song “Dirty Work” (as opposed to the video) could be a fun and flirty working-class anthem. As it stands, to the extent that the “Dirty Work” video is helpful, it is a helpful reminder that sexual solicitation and harassment are still prevalent.

What’s not clear from the video is that employers must provide a workplace free of sexual solicitation and harassment — and that there are legal consequences for those who flout their obligations.

Millard & Company specializes in employment and human rights law and has represented both applicants and respondents in many cases before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

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