sexual harassment in the workplace

What to Do If Sexually Harassed at Work

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue that affects many employees. If you find yourself wondering, “Am I being sexually harassed at work?” it is essential to understand your rights and know how to respond. This guide will help you navigate what to do if sexually harassed at work, ensuring a safe and respectful work environment.

Recognizing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace can take many forms, including unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. If you’re asking yourself, “Am I being sexually harassed at work?” it’s important to recognize the signs and understand what constitutes workplace sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment in the workplace encompasses a range of unwanted behaviours that are sexual in nature and create a hostile or offensive work environment. It includes, but is not limited to, the following actions and behaviours:

  • Unwanted Sexual Advances: Any unwelcome attempts to initiate a sexual relationship or physical contact.
  • Requests for Sexual Favours: Soliciting sexual acts or relationships in exchange for employment benefits, such as promotions, raises, or continued employment.
  • Inappropriate Physical Contact: Touching, hugging, patting, or brushing against someone’s body in a sexual manner without their consent.
  • Verbal Harassment: Making sexual comments, jokes, or innuendos about a person’s appearance, clothing, sex life, or sexual orientation. This can also include making derogatory comments about someone’s sex or gender identity.
  • Non-verbal Harassment: Displaying sexually suggestive objects or pictures, making sexual gestures, or using body language that is sexual in nature and intended to embarrass or intimidate the recipient.
  • Sexual Assault: Any form of non-consensual sexual touching or attack.
  • Sexual Coercion: Implied or overt threats for refusing sexual advances or promises of preferential treatment for accepting them.

Sexual harassment can occur in various circumstances within the workplace, not limited to interactions with superiors or colleagues; clients or customers can also be perpetrators. It’s important to note that sexual harassment is defined by the impact of the behaviour on the recipient, not the intent of the perpetrator. A single incident can qualify as sexual harassment if it’s severe enough, and it’s a misconception that harassment must involve overt sexual conduct; even actions that might be considered “friendly” or “playful” can be harassment if they are unwelcome and based on someone’s sex or gender.

The Prevalence and Impact of Sexual Harassment

A 2020 survey by Statistics Canada revealed alarming figures, indicating that nearly half of women (47%) and three in 10 men (31%) reported experiencing some form of harassment or sexual assault at work. This marks a significant increase from the agency’s 2018 report, highlighting a growing issue within Canadian work environments. The survey, part of the Gender Results Framework to track gender equality progress, underscores the widespread nature of workplace harassment, with inappropriate sexualized behaviour being the most commonly reported form.

Disproportionate Impact on 2SLGBTQI+ and Racialized Individuals

The survey sheds light on the disproportionate impact of workplace harassment on specific demographics, particularly 2SLGBTQI+ and racialized individuals. 2SLGBTQI+ workers are two to four times more likely to experience harassment or sexual assault compared to their heterosexual counterparts, with 76% of lesbian, gay, or bisexual women and 53% of men reporting such incidents. Additionally, racialized women and men face significant challenges, with 35% of racialized women and 20% of racialized men reporting experiences of workplace harassment.

Heightened Risks for Younger, 2SLGBTQI+, and Racialized Women

The data highlights a troubling trend among younger workers, with those aged 25 to 34 experiencing the highest rates of workplace harassment. In this age group, 60% of women and 39% of men reported harassment or sexual abuse, with inappropriate sexualized behaviour nearly doubling for women at 57%. Furthermore, women with disabilities and Indigenous individuals are consistently overrepresented among those experiencing harassment, discrimination, and violence, pointing to a systemic issue that extends beyond the workplace.

How to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Preventing sexual harassment in the workplace requires a proactive, comprehensive approach from both employers and employees to create a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment. Here are key strategies for prevention:

  • Establish Clear Policies and Procedures: Develop and implement a clear, written policy against sexual harassment, communicated to all employees. This policy should define what constitutes harassment, outline the process for reporting incidents, and specify the consequences for perpetrators.
  • Conduct Regular Training: Provide mandatory training for all employees, including management, on recognizing, preventing, and responding to sexual harassment. Training should emphasize the importance of respect and consent in the workplace.
  • Create Multiple Reporting Channels: Ensure employees have multiple, confidential ways to report sexual harassment without fear of retaliation. This can include direct supervisors, HR departments, anonymous hotlines, or external consultants.
  • Encourage a Speak-up Culture: Foster an organizational culture where employees feel safe and supported in speaking up about harassment and other workplace issues. Leadership should lead by example, encouraging open communication and demonstrating zero tolerance for harassment.
  • Promptly Investigate Reports: All reports of sexual harassment should be taken seriously and investigated promptly, thoroughly, and impartially. Ensure the investigation process is transparent and respects the privacy and dignity of all involved.
  • Take Appropriate Disciplinary Action: Based on the findings of investigations, take immediate and appropriate action against perpetrators of sexual harassment. Actions can range from warnings and mandatory training to suspension, demotion, or termination, depending on the severity of the conduct.
  • Provide Support for Victims: Offer support services to victims of sexual harassment, such as counselling, job accommodations, or leaves of absence. Ensure victims are protected from retaliation and have their rights and dignity upheld throughout the investigation process.
  • Review and Update Policies Regularly: Regularly review and update policies and training programs to reflect new laws, best practices, and the evolving needs of the workforce. Solicit feedback from employees to improve the effectiveness of prevention efforts.
  • Promote Diversity and Inclusion: Work towards creating a diverse and inclusive workplace where all employees feel valued and respected. Diversity and inclusion initiatives can help reduce power imbalances that often contribute to harassment.
  • Monitor Workplace Culture: Regularly assess the workplace culture and climate through surveys, feedback, and other methods to identify potential issues early and take corrective action.

By implementing these strategies, employers can significantly reduce the risk of sexual harassment in the workplace and foster a culture of respect and equality.

How to Address Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Addressing sexual harassment in the workplace effectively is crucial for maintaining a safe and respectful work environment. Here are key steps and strategies for dealing with incidents of sexual harassment:

  • Acknowledge and Take All Complaints Seriously: When an employee comes forward with a complaint, it is essential to listen attentively, acknowledge their courage in speaking up, and take their complaint seriously. Assure them that the organization is committed to addressing the issue in accordance with its policies.
  • Ensure Confidentiality: Maintain the confidentiality of all parties involved to the greatest extent possible throughout the investigation process. This helps protect the individuals and the integrity of the investigation.
  • Conduct a Prompt and Thorough Investigation: Initiate an impartial and thorough investigation immediately after a complaint is made. This may involve interviewing the complainant, the accused, and any witnesses, as well as reviewing relevant documents and communications. It’s important to ensure that the investigation is carried out by individuals who are trained and unbiased.
  • Provide Interim Protection: Consider interim measures to protect the complainant and ensure a safe work environment while the investigation is ongoing. This might include temporary changes in work assignments, schedules, or working conditions to minimize contact between the complainant and the accused.
  • Take Appropriate Action: Based on the findings of the investigation, take appropriate corrective actions against the perpetrator if the complaint is substantiated. Actions can range from warnings and mandatory training to suspension, demotion, or termination, depending on the severity of the harassment.
  • Offer Support to the Victim: Provide support to the victim, which could include counselling services, adjustments to their work environment, or other necessary accommodations. Ensure that the victim does not experience retaliation or further harassment.
  • Communicate Outcomes: Inform both the complainant and the accused of the outcome of the investigation and any actions taken, within the bounds of privacy laws and organizational policies. Ensure that this communication is clear and respectful.
  • Review and Strengthen Policies: After addressing a case of sexual harassment, review the situation and the organization’s response to identify any improvements or changes needed in policies, training, or workplace culture to prevent future incidents.
  • Foster a Respectful Workplace Culture: Continuously work on promoting a culture of respect, inclusion, and safety where harassment is not tolerated. Leadership should model respectful behaviour and encourage employees to speak up about inappropriate conduct without fear of retaliation.
  • Provide Ongoing Education: Offer ongoing education and training on sexual harassment prevention for all employees, reinforcing the organization’s commitment to a harassment-free workplace and ensuring everyone understands their rights and responsibilities.

By following these steps, organizations can address incidents of sexual harassment effectively, support affected employees, and work towards a culture where such behaviour is not tolerated.

How an Employment Lawyer Can Help

An employment lawyer plays a crucial role in navigating the complexities of sexual harassment in the workplace, offering essential support to both victims and employers. Here’s how an employment lawyer can assist in these situations:

For Victims of Sexual Harassment

  • Legal Advice and Representation: An employment lawyer provides legal advice on the rights of the victim and the obligations of the employer under employment and Human Rights laws. They can represent the victim in negotiations, mediations, or legal proceedings to seek justice and compensation.
  • Assistance with Complaints: Lawyers can assist victims in drafting and filing formal complaints with their employer, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, or other relevant bodies. They ensure that the complaint accurately reflects the harassment experienced and meets all procedural requirements.
  • Support Through the Investigation Process: Employment lawyers can guide victims through the investigation process, advising on how to communicate effectively, what evidence to gather, and how to deal with potential retaliation from the employer or colleagues.
  • Negotiating Settlements: Lawyers are skilled negotiators who can advocate for fair settlements on behalf of victims. This may include compensation for emotional distress, lost wages, or other damages resulting from the harassment.
  • Litigation: If a satisfactory resolution cannot be reached through negotiation or mediation, an employment lawyer can initiate legal action against the employer or the perpetrator. They will manage all aspects of the litigation process, from filing the lawsuit to representing the victim in court.

For Employers

  • Policy Development and Review: Employment lawyers can help employers develop or review anti-harassment policies and procedures, ensuring they comply with current laws and best practices. This includes guidance on creating effective reporting mechanisms and disciplinary procedures.
  • Training: Lawyers can provide training to management and staff on sexual harassment laws, recognizing and preventing harassment, and responding appropriately to complaints. This training helps create a safer workplace and can mitigate the employer’s liability in harassment cases.
  • Handling Complaints: Employment lawyers can advise employers on how to handle harassment complaints properly, including conducting investigations, respecting confidentiality, and taking appropriate corrective actions.
  • Defence in Legal Claims: If an employer is faced with a legal claim related to sexual harassment, employment lawyers can provide defence representation. They will work to protect the employer’s interests, challenging the merits of the claim and negotiating settlements where appropriate.
  • Risk Management: Lawyers assist employers in identifying and mitigating risks associated with workplace harassment. This includes advising on best practices for documenting incidents, communicating with employees, and making workplace adjustments to prevent future incidents.

Engaging an employment lawyer ensures that both victims and employers navigate the issue of workplace sexual harassment with the necessary legal expertise, aiming for outcomes that uphold justice, respect, and a harassment-free workplace environment.

Conclusion

Dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace can be challenging, but knowing your rights and the appropriate steps to take can help you navigate this difficult situation. If you’re wondering, “Am I being sexually harassed at work?” or need advice on what to do if sexually harassed at work, remember that you are not alone. There are resources and support available to help you address workplace sexual harassment effectively.

Contact Achkar Law

If you’re facing sexual harassment in the workplace or are an employer seeking to ensure your organization adheres to the highest standards of respect and legal compliance, Achkar Law is here to help. Our team of dedicated employment and Human Rights lawyers specializes in navigating the complexities of workplace harassment, offering tailored advice and robust representation to protect your rights and interests.

For Victims of Sexual Harassment: Don’t navigate this challenging time alone. Our compassionate and skilled lawyers can provide you with the support and guidance you need to address the harassment, from filing a complaint to seeking compensation for the harm you’ve endured.

For Employers: Ensure your workplace is a safe and inclusive environment for all employees. Achkar Law can assist you in developing comprehensive anti-harassment policies, conducting training sessions, and effectively responding to harassment claims to mitigate risks and foster a positive workplace culture.

Contact Us Today for a Consultation

Take the first step towards resolving workplace sexual harassment. Contact Achkar Law for a confidential consultation to discuss your situation, understand your options, and plan your next steps. Our expert team is committed to delivering justice and ensuring a harassment-free workplace for everyone.

Don’t let sexual harassment in the workplace go unaddressed. Reach out to Achkar Law today, and let us advocate for your rights and well-being.

Facing Sexual Harassment at Work? Contact Achkar Law for Support

Sexual harassment in the workplace is not only unacceptable but also illegal. If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work, it’s crucial to take action. The team at Achkar Law is committed to providing confidential and sensitive legal support. We can help you understand your rights, explore your options for addressing the harassment, and work towards a resolution that upholds your dignity and safety.