Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace is still the scourge of the Canadian workforce. We may not read much about it in the news, but every day there are numerous sexual harassment complaints filed. Since most victims feel powerless, and therefore afraid to report sexual harassment, one can assume that it is still very much prevalent in the Canadian workplace, much more than we would care to acknowledge.

A high percentage of Canadian women have stated that they had experienced workplace sexual harassment. Over 90 per cent of Canadian women have admitted that they had experienced this type of harassment at some point during their working lives. About the same percentage of men could add that that they know about a sexual harassment incident, or have witnessed one (let alone perpetrated one). It is also a leading factor contributing to why a high percentage of women change jobs (although most would prefer not to mention it).

What is Sexual Harassment In the Workplace?

Sexual Harassment

Briefly speaking, we can define workplace sexual harassment as any "unwanted sexual behaviour" that occurs in a work-related environment, whether it be in the workplace, at the office party, away from the office at a work-related conference etc.

Sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual advances or behaviour that includes sexual touching, sexual jokes and comments, displays of a sexual nature that are demeaning and humiliating to a person.

For the Definition Sexual Harassment.

For the two types of sexual harassment click on:

Who Tends to Get Sexually Harassed in the Workplace

Most victims of sexual harassment are women, though they are not the only victims. Men can also be victims of sexual harassment, though this appears to happen less often. Workplace sexual harassment is not just limited to incidents between male bosses and a female employees. In fact sexual harassment often occurs between co-workers and can include:

  • Co-worker to co-worker sexual harassment
  • supervisor harassing a subordinate
  • subordinate harassing a supervisor
  • men harassing women
  • women harassing men
  • same sex harassment with men harassing men, and women harassing women
  • sexual orientation harassment
  • third party harassment, such as customers and suppliers

From the above, we see that offenders could be supervisors, fellow workers, customers, suppliers and vendors.

Workplace Sexual Harassment Statistics

The last reported sexual harassment statistics in Canada showed that young women are the most likely to be sexually harassed with 10% of women 18 to 24 years of age having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace within the previous 12 months.(1)

Also, single women are more likely to be sexually harassed than married women. The statistics show that single women between the ages of 25 to 45 experienced sexual harassment at the same rate as young women aged 18 to 24 years.(2)

Of the reported cases of workplace sexual harassment 55% were perpetrated by co-workers. The percentage of sexual harassment cases involving a supervisor or manager, was 39%. Sexual harassment by a client or customer was 13%.(3)
1., 2., & 3. Perspectives on Labour & Income: "Work-related Sexual Harassment" by Holly Johnson)

Sexual Harassment Laws Protecting Workers

Canadian laws such as the Canada Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act protect workers against sexual harassment at work. Workers are further protected through the Canada Criminal Code against physical and sexual assault (some forms of sexual harassment, such as sexual assault constitute a criminal act).

Employers Can Be Held Legally Responsible for Sexual Harassment at Work

Employers have a legal responsibility to provide workers with a safe and harassment-free work environment. They have the responsibility to stop sexual harassment, or any harassment for that matter, when it occurs. Failure to act on a complaint, in a timely manner, or to ignore that sexual harassment when it occurs, leaves employers facing legal responsibility, which could amount to tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and penalties. (See cost of court cases on sexual harassment)

Need Help? Contact Us

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