Sexual Harassment in The Workplace: What You Need to Know

This has been the year of reckoning for sexual harassment, especially in the workplace. The #MeToo movement made headlines around the world and gave a voice to millions who have experienced sexual assault or harassment. 

Despite the headlines, marches and activism sexual harassment in the workplace is still an issue. Research has found that more than half of women in Canada have experienced sexual harassment at work and unfortunately the majority did not report it. This is because women often feel powerless and alone in the workplace if they are harassed, with no one to stand up for their rights. 

Here is everything you need to know about workplace sexual harassment in Canada.

What Is it?

The Canada Labour Code defines sexual harassment as ‘any conduct, comment, gesture, or contact of a sexual nature that is likely to cause offence or humiliation to any employee; or that might, on reasonable grounds, be perceived by that employee as placing a condition of a sexual nature on employment or on any opportunity for training or promotion. ‘It usually involves an abuse of power by one individual over another.

What Constitutes Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment usually falls into three categories – ­verbal, physical or environmental. 

  • Unwanted physical touching such as pinching, grabbing, rubbing kissing or unnecessary touching
  • Sharing or displaying pornographic or offensive images, videos or objects 
  • Asking sexual questions
  • Sending sexually suggestive text messages or emails
  • Making inappropriate comments about a person’s appearance, body, sexual orientation or gender
  • Telling lewd or suggestive jokes
  • Sexual propositions, requests or demands

Who Does Sexual Harassment Effect?

Although most victims of sexual harassment tend to be women, men can also be victims. But it isn’t always the typical idea people have of a male boss harassing a female employee. It can include co-worker to coworker harassment, same-sex sexual harassment, sexual orientation harassment or third-party harassment from customers or suppliers. It can create a completely toxic work environment for the victim and the people who are witnessing the harassment. 

How to Know If You’re Being Harassed

You think you might be being sexually harassed at work, you’ve read the definition, but you’re still not sure. The first thing to do is always trust your guy. Listen to your emotions and if the behaviour is making you feel off, then it probably is. Read your companies harassment policy and do some research to be sure. Try talking about it with a friend or coworker you trust.

The Impact of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment can have a serious impact on the emotional well-being of the victim, causing anxiety, depression and insomnia. This obviously has an overwhelming impact on an employee’s ability to do their job. It can stand in the way of promotions, raises and upward mobility at work and also forces many employees to quit. In some of the worst-case scenarios employees have been fired if they do not reciprocate or report the harassment. 

Employers Responsibility

It is written in the Canada Labour Code that every employee in Canada has a right to employment free of sexual harassment. It also states that every employer is required to make ‘every reasonable effort to ensure that no employee is subjected to sexual harassment.’ In Alberta, if an employer neglects to follow up on a complaint of sexual harassment they can be found liable under the Alberta Human Rights Act. This year the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act was updated to include harassment and violence as workplace hazards and requires every employer to develop and implement workplace harassment and violence prevention plans. 

What to Do If You Experience It

  • The first step is to make it absolutely clear that you do not approve of the action to the harasser
  • The next step is to tell a supervisor if the behaviour continues. If the harassment is coming from someone in a position of power then you can make a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission. You can find more resources here (Link to our resources page)
  • Keep a detailed record of the incidents, witnesses, behaviour and anything else you think is relevant
  • Get a copy of your workplace procedures and policies and make sure you follow it and have a clear understanding of the policies in place
  • Keep in mind that a complaint must be made within one year of the incident to the Human Rights Commission 

We're here to help

You have an important story and we want to hear it. If you’re experiencing anything that is making you hate your job, share it publicly or privately with us.

Tell us your story

The Distress Line is a great resource to call if you are feeling overwhelmed and need someone to talk to. 

You can contact them at 403.266.HELP (4357) in Calgary, 
780-482-HELP (4357) in Edmonton and 1-800-232-7288 in rural areas.

Learn More About
Health & Safety

The Physical Health Effects of Precarious Work

You may have heard the phrase ‘precarious work’ being thrown around when Canadians talk about the…

Read More

Ways Your Workplace Should Be Keeping You Safe

Your job is a hectic place. It can be physically and mentally demanding, especially when you’re u…

Read More

What to Do If You’re Experiencing Burnout

Dealing with burnout at work is not easy. It’s hard to say no to the demands of coworkers, bosses…

Read More

Why Fatigue at Work is a Major Safety Issue

Everyone has that time of the day at work where you need an energy boost. For some, it’s when you…

Read More