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Dealing with Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Stop sexual harassmentOver the last few months, the media has been overloaded with stories about sexual harassment in the workplace.  The sequence of events involving the CBC has been met with heated debate and turned a spotlight on an important issue that is all too often left in the dark.  The conversation has extended as far as Queen’s Park, where Premier Kathleen Wynn acknowledged that more needs to be done about sexual harassment in the workplace on a provincial level.  Workplace harassment can happen to anyone, in any occupation, and in many different ways.  Many of us spend more time at our place of work than we do at home, so it is essential, and within our legal rights, to feel safe and secure.  Sexual harassment, or harassment of and kind, can have a devastating effect on someone personally, emotionally and professionally.

Sexual harassment is defined as any unwanted sexual behavior.  This could be suggestive comments, inappropriate jokes, unwanted touching and a variety of other behavior that leaves the victim feeling uncomfortable, violated or humiliated.  Workplace sexual harassment can also occur outside of your regular place of business, such as at a holiday party or any other work-related event.

According to the Canadian legal definition, the Supreme Court defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that detrimentally affects the work environment or leads to adverse job related consequences for the victims of the harassment. By requiring an employee, male or female, to contend with unwelcome sexual actions or explicit sexual demands, sexual harassment in the workplace attacks the dignity and self-respect of the victim both as an employee and as a human being.”

Fortunately in Ontario, employers have a legal responsibility to provide a safe workplace for all staff.  If you are the victim of sexual harassment, it’s important to know that you have rights.  Take the first step by letting your harasser know that you are uncomfortable with their behavior.  Send an email, if possible, in case you need it to support your claim at a later date.  Keep a written record of the harassment – when it occurred, what happened, and any other relevant details that you may need to reference.

Report the behaviour to a manger, your HR department, or whomever would be responsible for addressing harassment issues in your workplace.  If your superiors do not follow up in a timely manner, or you feel that your problem is not being addressed at all, you may need enlist of the help of a lawyer to take further action.  Failing to deal with a harassment problem within a company becomes a Human Rights issue.  Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away, and an employee who participates in this kind of inappropriate behavior can become a major liability for a company.   Keep in mind, working in a harassment-free environment is your right.

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