Definition of Sexual Harassment

Here is the sexual harassment definition that will answer the question "What is sexual harassment?" Generally speaking, sexual harassment is unwanted sexual behaviour.

Definition of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The American Heritage Dictionary gives the sexual harassment definition as:

"The making of unwanted and offensive sexual advances or of sexually offensive remarks or acts, especially by one in a superior or supervisory position or when acquiescence to such behavior is a condition of continued employment, promotion, or satisfactory evaluation".

What constitutes the legal definition of sexual harassment is the fact that the sexual advances are "unwanted" or "unwelcome" by the victim.

Canadian Legal Definition of Sexual Harassment

The Canadian legal definition as outlined in the case Janzen v. Platy Enterprises Ltd., 1989 1 SCR 1252, the Supreme Court of Canada defines sexual harassment in the workplace as:

"unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that detrimentally affects the work environment or leads to adverse job related consequences for the victims of the harassment. By requiring an employee, male or female, to contend with unwelcome sexual actions or explicit sexual demands, sexual harassment in the workplace attacks the dignity and self respect of the victim both as an employee and as a human being."

The Supreme Court of Canada also considered in same Janzen v. Platy Enterprises Ltd. case, that...

"Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination," because, "Here, the sexual harassment suffered by the appellants constituted sex discrimination for it was a practice or attitude which had the effect of limiting the conditions of employment of, or the employment opportunities available to, employees on the basis of a characteristic related to gender."

In this case the employer was also held liable for the actions of the offending employee.

Types of Sexual Harassment

Here we get to understand the difference between the two types of sexual harassment in the workplace:

  • Quid pro quo
  • Hostile work environment

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment 

"Quid pro quo" is the Latin meaning for "this for that" or in the workplace "a favour for a favour". An example of this is when a supervisor, or someone in authority, or more senior to you, implies that your work situation will favourably improve if you were to submit to his/her unwelcome sexual advances. This is a serious abuse of authority and is illegal whether you refuse or submit to his or her sexual demands.

Hostile Work Environment

This is the more common type of sexual harassment in the workplace. The hostile work environment sexual harassment is characterized by a series of incidents involving intimidation and hostility. However, a single incident of sexual assault is sufficient to create a hostile work environment. It often adversely affects the victim's work performance. This type of sexual harassment involves unwanted physical, verbal, and gestures that are sexual in nature.