Workplace sexual harassment may come from supervisors or co-workers and is usually about exercising power over the victims. As well as being a workplace issue, it also occurs in doctors', dentists', lawyers' and therapists' offices, as well as at colleges and universities.
This type of behaviour may be encouraged by norms in the society, stereotyping, lack of communication and lack of consequences, which make it easy for it to persist unchallenged.
However, it is illegal. The Canada Human Rights Act, Criminal Code of Canada and Canadian Labour Code all prohibit sexually harassing behaviour.
Sexual harassment in the workplace can take many forms including:
staring and leering, howling, whistling, cat calls, derogatory comments, innuendoes, sexually explicit comments or jokes (including those delivered by email), unwelcome flirting, inappropriate touching or fondling, sexist remarks, displaying pornography, following and blocking, requiring sexual favours in return for job security, sexual assault and rape.
Consensual sex, physical affection and mutually enjoyed flirting do not constitute sexual harassment.
Many victims of sexual harassment in the workplace fail to report it. There are many reasons for this.
However, sexual harassment does not usually go away if ignored; in fact, it gets worse. For dealing with this problem visit Sexual Harassment At Work and How to Deal With It.
Employees can check the employer's policy on harassment to know how to handle the issue. Harassers may have more than one victim in the workplace, so employees may be able to find support from others who have had the same experience.
Finally, employees can file complaints with their local human rights commission if they lose their jobs or suffer other negative effects of complaining about sexual harassment in the workplace.
Sexual harassment in the workplace can have profound effects on its victims. Possible emotional effects include depression, anxiety, anger, fear, embarrassment, stress and feelings of shame, humiliation, degradation and powerlessness.
Victims may also experience physical effects such as headaches, nausea, stomach pains and ulcers, loss of appetite, illness, disturbed sleep and dependence on alcohol or drugs.
There are also effects on the victim's performance at work. Someone who is being sexually harassed may be late for or absent from work and may find it difficult to work. That person may also end up leaving the job or requesting a transfer, resulting in loss of income and benefits.
Employers will find that these employees may have to be reassigned to areas where they are less effective. The work environment in general becomes less productive and morale may be low. Sexual harassment lawsuits can also be costly.
For more on defining the problem of sexual harassment specific to your organization, contact us for an Employment Lawyer or Labour Relations Consultant in your area.
For assistance with sexual harassment problems or other labour relations issues in your organization, contact us.