Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination. It involves unwanted behaviour that intimidates or causes another person offence or humiliation. Victims or ‘targets’ of sexual harassment can experience severe anxiety, shame and fear. Workplace sexual harassment undermines a person’s sense of personal dignity. It can prevent them from earning a living, doing their job effectively, or reaching their full potential. Sexual harassment can also poison the workplace for everyone else. If not addressed, it has the potential to escalate to violent behaviour.
Watch: That's Harassment (note that these are U.S. videos - if you have experienced sexual harassment, call a local sexual assault centre for support.)
- Sharing sexually inappropriate images or videos, such as pornography, with co-workers
- Demanding hugs
- Sending suggestive letters, notes, or e-mails
- Displaying inappropriate sexual images or posters in the workplace
- Telling lewd jokes, or sharing sexual anecdotes
- Making inappropriate sexual gestures
- Staring in a sexually suggestive or offensive manner, or whistling
- Making sexual comments about appearance, clothing, or body parts
- Calling people sex-specific derogatory names
- Inappropriate touching, including pinching, patting, rubbing, or purposefully brushing up against another person
- Asking sexual questions, such as questions about someone's sexual history or their sexual orientation
- Making offensive comments about someone's sexual orientation or gender identity
Both women and men may experience sexual harassment at work, but women tend to be more vulnerable to it because they often hold lower-paying, lower-authority and lower-status jobs compared to men. Women in authority may also experience sexual harassment.
Employers in Ontario have a legal duty to take steps to prevent and respond to sexual harassment under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Sexual harassment commonly leaves its victims feeling powerless. If you have experienced sexual harassment at work, there are steps you can take to help ensure that you receive all of the protections that the law provides.
- Document everything – keep an account of exactly happened – include the date and what was said or done to you. Keep your records safe.
- Make clear statements to the harassers that the behavior they are engaging in is offensive.
- If this does not result in a change in the offensive conduct, read the company's policies and procedures for handling a sexual harassment claim.
- In Ontario, employers are required to have a policy in place. The policy is like a blueprint – is should tell you what to do and even who you should report to. Follow the policy and procedures carefully and document everything.
- If your company doesn’t have a policy for dealing with sexual harassment, take your complaint to your immediate supervisor. If the supervisor is not supportive or if your supervisor is the person harassing you, report it to their immediate supervisor.
If you are unable to resolve the harassment complaint through your employer's internal procedures you can proceed to filing reports with the Ministry of Labour or the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Seek support for yourself. Sexual harassment is a traumatic experience. Your local sexual assault centre can help.
In more extreme cases, sexual harassment is a criminal offence. It is a crime if the harassment involves attempted or actual physical assault, including sexual assault, or threats of an assault. Stalking is a crime called “criminal harassment.” Where sexual harassment includes any of these things, you can contact your local police service.
You have the right to a safe workplace free of harassment.