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Sexual Harassment at Work and How to Deal with It

In Canada the following behaviors constitute sexual harassment at work. The key question asked when determining sexual harassment is: "was the action unwanted by the complainant?" If the answer is "Yes" then there is a case for sexual harassment to be filed.

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

  • Passing or uttering sexually degrading jokes or remarks to describe an individual or group

  • Asking unwanted questions or making comments about an employee or co-worker's sex life

  • Unwanted sexual advances and propositions of an employee or co-worker for a date or relationship

  • Requests for sexual favours in exchange for job benefits

  • Bullying, threats or abuse such as; threat of job loss, or lack of advancement, and other negative sanctions if the employee did not have a sexual affair with the abuser
  • Leering i.e. consistently staring lustfully at a co-worker's body

  • Making unwanted sexual or suggestive gestures to co-worker

  • Displaying sexually offensive material, such as pornography or degrading images in the workplace

  • Unwanted touching suggestively, intentionally brushing up against a co-worker, using force in patting, hugging, pinching, kissing or grabbing a co-worker, also constitutes a criminal offence of "sexual assault"

  • Sexual assault

Kinds of Sexual Harassment at Work

Sexual harassment incidences usually fall into one of the following categories:

Gender harassment, with behaviors such as: negative remarks, jokes about the opposite sex or about a co-worker's sexual orientation.

Unwanted non-verbal sexual advances such as: inappropriate touching, intentionally getting too close, leering, making sexual gestures, and sexual assault.

Verbal sexual attention such as: sharing insulting jokes or remarks about a co-worker or group of individuals; asking unwanted questions about a colleague?s sex life; and pestering a employee for sexual favours.

Sexual coercion which include: threats of demotion; or job loss; and offering job benefits in exchange for sexual favours.

Should you experience any one or more of the above incidences of sexual harassment at work, there are certain steps you can take to curb the unwanted behavior.

Reporting Sexual Harassment at Work

Here's the action you can take if you are being sexually harassed at work:

1. Acknowledge that you do have a problem and that the problem needs to be resolved.

2. Leave a paper trail. Create a diary and keep an accurate account, including names, dates and times, of everything that happens. List witnesses if any, write down, as soon as possible after the incidence, how you feel about the harassment.

3. Let your harasser know that you are offended by his or her specific actions and that you want him or her to stop those actions. (Tip: Send by email which will create an electronic record, listing date and time, which can be retrieved as proof later, if required. Always keep your tone and language businesslike.)

4. Confide in someone you trust about your problem.

5. Request in writing, for a copy of your employer's sexual harassment policy. If your employer does not have a written policy, make a record of it.

6. If the harassment continues, then report the behavior, in writing, to the level of management that is responsible for dealing with sexual harassment complaints and request an investigation.

7. Co-operate with the investigation.

8. If the company does not have a formal sexual harassment policy in place, or if management does not seriously follow up in a timely manner, or you are not satisfied with management's results, then you do have the option to seek help from an outside agency such as the local Human Rights Commission, or an employment lawyer or employment consultant.

Need Help? Contact Us

For assistance with handling sexual harassment problems at work, or other labour relations issues in your organization, contact us.