Having a policy and conducting training is the best way to prevent sexual violence and harassment.


About Sexual Harassment

It is also prohibited by your employer’s policy. Each province and territory in Canada has a human rights law prohibiting sexual harassment, as well as tribunals and commissions to enforce it.

Sexual harassment in the workplace can have significant and adverse impacts on both the employer and employees: it can negatively affect productivity, morale, absenteeism and the general health and well-being of employees in the workplace.

What is sexual harassment?

In the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code), sexual harassment is “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought to be known to be unwelcome.” In some cases, one incident could be serious enough to be sexual harassment.

The reference to comment or conduct "that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome" means that there are two parts to the test for harassment. First, we have to consider if the person doing the harassment knew how their behaviour would be received. Second, we must consider how someone else would generally feel about the behaviour - this can help us think from the perspective of a person who is being harassed.

Forms of sexual harassment

Sexual harassment can include:
  • sexual solicitation and advances (your supervisor asks for sex in exchange for a promotion)
  • a poisoned environment (pornographic images in the workplace)
  • gender-based harassment (targeting someone for not following sex-role stereotypes)
  • violence (if inappropriate sexual behaviour is not dealt with, it may move to more serious forms, including sexual assault and other violence)
Examples of sexual harassment and gender-based harassment
  • demanding hugs
  • invading personal space
  • making unnecessary physical contact, including unwanted touching, etc.
  • using language that puts someone down and/or comments toward women (or men, in some cases), sex-specific derogatory names
  • leering or inappropriate staring
  • making gender-related comments about someone’s physical characteristics or mannerisms
  • making comments or treating someone badly because they don’t conform with sex-role stereotypes
  • showing or sending pornography, sexual pictures or cartoons, sexually explicit graffiti, or other sexual images (including online)
  • sexual jokes, including passing around written sexual jokes (for example, by email)
  • rough and vulgar humour or language related to gender
  • using sexual or gender-related comment or conduct to bully someone
  • spreading sexual rumours (including online)
  • making suggestive or offensive comments or hints about members of a specific gender
  • making sexual propositions
  • verbally abusing, threatening or taunting someone based on gender
  • bragging about sexual prowess
  • demanding dates or sexual favours
  • making offensive sexual jokes or comments
  • asking questions or talking about sexual activities
  • making an employee dress in a sexualized or gender-specific way
  • acting paternally in a way that someone thinks undermines their self-respect or position of responsibility
  • making threats to penalize or otherwise punish a person who refuses to comply with sexual advances (known as reprisal).
Source: Policy on preventing sexual and gender-based harassment, Ontario Human Rights Commission

Employers have a duty to keep a poison-free work environment and to take steps to make sure that sexual harassment is not taking place. Once they learn of sexual harassment, employers must take immediate action to investigate and remedy the situation. Having a policy and providing training and education is the best line of defence against sexual harassment.
  • A safe, confidential process should be established for employees to lodge a complaint.
  • Personal Respondents should be removed from the work environment while an investigation proceeds.
  • If possible, an external firm or trained human resources staff should conduct investigations.
  • If an investigation is conducted internally, it should proceed in as thorough, uniform and unbiased a manner as possible. Notes of interviews should be recorded in an impartial manner.
  • Complainants should be informed of the outcome of an investigation as soon as possible.
HR Proactive can provide individual “one to one” training, coaching for your staff - View our sample training brochure. We also specialize in harassment investigations.

What to do if you believe you are being sexually harassed?

If you are sexually harassed:

Remember that it’s not your fault. Harassers are responsible for their own behaviour. The harassment most likely won’t stop if you ignore it; it may actually get worse. A person who believes she or he is being sexually harassed can take a number of steps. They are progressive and include:
  • Tell the person to stop

    Anyone experiencing sexual harassment should advise the perpetrator that their behaviour is unwelcome, offensive and considered sexual harassment. If the harassment persists, or the person feels uncomfortable approaching the perpetrator, he or she should:

    • Speak to the person’s supervisor

      Where the person feels uncomfortable approaching the perpetrator, he or she should take the matter to his or her immediate supervisor. If the immediate supervisor is party to the harassment, then the person complaining should bring the matter to the next level of supervision.

      If you are a member of a bargaining unit, speak with a union representative. Most collective agreements include clauses dealing with sexual harassment and discrimination. As well, labour arbitrators have the authority to interpret and apply human rights legislation in their cases.

    • Make a complaint through your organization’s internal harassment complaint resolution process

      Many organizations have an internal complaint process, whereby employees can make either a formal or informal complaint that will be investigated.

    • Contact the Human Rights Commission or Tribunal

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