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Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC)  harassment is behavior directed toward  another person ” that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.”  While sexual harassment is recognized under the umbrella term “harassment” in the Ontario Health and Safety Act,   planned changes to the OHSA are in progress now. Proposed amendments  include provisions for defining and dealing with “sexual harassment” as a serious  and  separate issue.

Sexual harassment could include physical, verbal or a variety of  suggestive behaviors, directed to another person due to gender, sexual orientation, race, perceived status or physical appearance. If the behavior is sexual in nature and makes others feel uncomfortable, it can be considered sexual harassment. This includes the person the sexual behavior is directed to specifically and others who are made uncomfortable by the situation. Anyone who is made to feel uncomfortable due to sexual harassment has a right to lodge a complaint and lay charges.

Any of the following situations comprise sexual harassment:

  • Threats of job loss, demotion or violence if sexual advances are turned down
  • Staring or long suggestive glances
  • Teasing comments about gender, physical characteristics, or ethnic perceptions
  • Unwanted hugs or caresses
  • Invasion of personal space
  • Comments on physical appearance or clothing
  • Sexually suggestive jokes or inappropriate comments
  • Asking for sexual favours, or compliance in return for job status, security,  promotion or other benefits
  • Comments of a sexual nature
  • Sexually suggestive items

In many situations perpetrators of sexual harassment target vulnerable people who are young, insecure, or part of a minority group.

It is up to the person who has been sexually harassed to notify his or her employer about the situation, preferably in writing. (If your employer is the harasser, let him or her know the behavior is unwelcome and see your employment lawyer.) It is best to stop unwelcome behavior right away and avoid possible  escalation to aggression or violence.

Once an employer is aware of a harassment issue it is his responsibility to take the issue seriously and deal with it promptly.  When investigations are complete, the employer must notify the parties of his follow-up actions, and steps for problem resolution.  In many situations employer’s efforts are enough to prevent the harassment from continuing.

Investigations can be difficult to sort out
Sexual harassment may consist of comments or advances made privately so that others are not aware of the situation. One or more people may be involved, for example in situations where persons of a specific gender or sexual orientation are targeted. Some times perpetrators thought they were being complimentary and hadn’t thought their comments were inappropriate. If any reasonable person would consider the actions unwelcome it is defined as harassment. Whatever the intent, sexual harassment is a serious offense that must not be tolerated.

Many people fail to recognize sexual harassment right away.  At the outset the comments or actions may seem random, accidental even innocent. As time goes on however the intensity increases, it is common for victims to have uncomfortable feelings about their job and uncertainty on how to deal with increasingly uncomfortable and demeaning treatment.  Sexual harassment in the workplace leaves employees feeling vulnerable and afraid to go to work, yet most stay because they are even more afraid to quit a job they really need.

Staying in the workplace and putting up with inappropriate treatment may seem like the safe thing to do yet can appear as compliance and make the work situation increasing uncomfortable. If the situation is allowed to continue, the harasser and other co-workers may assume compliance by the victim or victims and the entire work setting can be contaminated, or made worse if others decide to join in with inappropriate comments or actions. While waiting for a remedy, victim of sexual harassment are sometimes, wrongfully dismissed, fired or decide to quit.

Everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
You need legal help if you are being sexually harassed at work.  If you are being subjected to treatment that is sexual in nature and is making you feel uncomfortable, you may have grounds to launch a lawsuit under the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Ontario Health and Safety Act.     It is important to engage the services of an experienced employment lawyer for help. If the situation is not remedied the victim of sexual harassment may be advised to quit their job and launch a law suit for constructive dismissal. Their case may be brought to a Human Rights Tribunal.  Scott Furlong Ford Lawyers help victims of sexual harassment to understand their rights in each situation and determine the best course of action for justice and compensation.