Sexual harassment is any unwanted and unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature. It can take place in any setting, including in a school, work, a public place, at home, or by phone, text, or social media.
Sexual harassment can take many forms and occur in the workplace, outside the workplace, during work hours, or after work. Where sexual harassment is left unchecked it can lead to violent behaviours and actions and may constitute criminal offences. Sexual harassment can cause significant loss to employers and unwanted stress and anxiety to both employers and employees.
Everyone in the workplace can play an active role in identifying sexual harassment in the workplace. This is especially important where some victims may feel uncomfortable notifying others of the unwanted and unwelcomed behaviours and actions. Everyone in the workplace can help prevent sexual harassment. This can be done by educating oneself on what sexual harassment can be and learning ways to help prevent and stop incidents of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment affects many employees in the workplace.
Everyone has an opportunity to prevent and stop sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment in the workplace undermines a person’s dignity, confidence, and quality of life. Sexual harassment can prevent someone from doing their job and working effectively.
This can have many negative consequences including preventing someone from earning a living and causing stress, anxiety, trauma, and pain. Often these effects impact a person beyond the workplace and continue to affect individuals. Anyone can be the victim of sexual harassment, and anyone can be a perpetrator. However, statistically speaking, women tend to experience sexual harassment more than men.
Sexual harassment effects ALL persons, regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, colour, nationality, ethnicity, origin, religion, age, disabilities, marital and family status, income level, and association with various groups or individuals and political opinions. No form of sexual harassment on any ground is justifiable.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Human Rights Act prevents people in positions who are able to confer, grant, or deny benefits or advancements to individuals from engaging in sexual solicitation or from making sexual advances to someone where they know or reasonably should know that it is unwelcome
Furthermore, people in positions to confer or deny benefits or advancements to others cannot penalize, punish, or threaten to retaliate against the person for rejecting their sexual advances.
In other words, a person who has power and authority in a workplace, including a boss, manager, or supervisor, cannot make unwanted sexual advances towards people in their workplace and cannot give or deny employment benefits (such as a raise, a promotion, or other benefit) based on sexual solicitation or sexual advances. As well, an employee cannot be punished or denied employment benefits for rejecting the sexual advances of another person in their workplace.
There are numerous things which would be considered sexual harassment. The following list gives some examples.
This is not an exhaustive list
While numerous things will be considered sexual harassment, somethings will not fall under the definition
After-work interactions between employees and supervisors/managers outside the workplace may constitute employment-related sexual harassment. For example, sexual harassment at work parties and events may fall under prohibited conduct under the Human Rights Act.
Sexual messages sent via cell phones, e-mails, or social media may be found to be employment related, and the employee or employer may still be responsible for discriminatory effects of the activities. However, incidents that are not related to employment, or are personal in nature, may not fall under the Act. What constitutes employment-related sexual harassment must be assessed on a case by case basis.
If sexual harassment is not addressed, it may become a criminal offence known as criminal harassment. Someone who engages in conduct that causes someone to reasonably, in the circumstance, fear for their safety, or the safety of anyone known to them, may have committed a criminal offence.
Things that cause fear for the safety of oneself or others that may constitute criminal harassment include:
You can begin by reporting the sexual harassment to someone about the behaviours that you are experiencing. This is the most important step in addressing sexual harassment.
Emergencies – If you believe that you are being threatened, are in immediate danger, or are in need of protection, emergency services should be contacted by calling 9-11.
Alternative Dispute Resolution – You may wish to seek alternative dispute resolution to address sexual harassment. This may be the most efficient and effective means to handle sexual harassment in the workplace. Alternative dispute resolution uses various means to come to a proper conclusion. For example, approaching the employee who is sexually harassing you either personally or in writing and advising them that the behaviour is unwelcome and inappropriate for their relationship may resolve the issue.
An employee may seek mediation between themselves and the perpetrator. This mediation can be held by various individuals and can avoid the lengthy processes involved in formal complaints or laying charges. Appropriate solutions may include, but are not limited to, seeking an apology, or workplace policies requiring the perpetrator to attend seminars on appropriate workplace behaviour. Often, individuals do not wish to go through the formal processes of complaints, and alternative dispute resolution can be the most effective means of resolving their problems.
Employees may choose to also go through their supervisor or manager to discuss the situation and possible solutions. If the issue is with the supervisor or manager, the employee should seek another supervisor or manager, ideally one above the perpetrator.
It is also possible that the workplace will have a human resources manager who will be best equipped to handle these situations. If there is a human resources manager, the employee may seek to consult them to come to a resolution of conflict. If the human resources manager is the perpetrator, the employee can seek to resolve the issue with another supervisor or manager above them, or the business owner.
It is possible that the highest manager, or business owner is the perpetrator. If this is the case the employee may notify a lower level supervisor or manager or may seek to file complaints with the Human Rights Commission, or seek to lay criminal charges.
Making A Complaint with the Human Rights Commission – The Human Rights Commission may make findings as to whether or not an individual has been discriminated against. This may include discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or other possible grounds.
Where you believe you have been discriminated against, you must contact the Human Rights Commission within 12 months of the alleged incident, or within 12 months of the most recent incident if the sexual harassment is on-going. You can speak to a Human Rights Investigator either via phone, e-mail, or in person at the Human Rights Commission office. There is no cost to the complainant to do so.
It is possible that the alleged complaint may not be accepted as a complaint. This may be done for various reasons, and it does not mean that they do not believe you. It may simply be a situation where there is not enough evidence to make a successful complaint.
The Human Rights Commission may seek to offer mediation with a lawyer. This process is available for parties to come to a timely decision and help both parties understand the root of the problem, while coming to acceptable solutions. Parties do not have to agree to mediation, and parties can have legal representation at mediation meetings. If no agreement is made, the matter will return to the Human Rights Investigator to continue investigating the complaint.
Claims may be appealed after the decision to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Trial Division by either party. This must be done within 30 days of receiving the order from the Board of Inquiry.
Laying Criminal Charges – Sexual harassment can be criminal harassment, a criminal offence. Section 264 of the Criminal Code prohibits various forms of conduct and provides that those who contravene section 264 are guilty of either an indictable offence or an offence punishable on summary conviction.
If sexual harassment escalates, it may be considered to be sexual assault. Sexual assault does not require physical contact or touching to qualify as a criminal act. Sexual assault is prohibited under section 271 of the Criminal Code.
If someone wishes to lay charges against someone for criminal harassment or sexual assault they should contact their local police. The police will then conduct an investigation, and where reasonable grounds exist for a possible criminal offence may arrest an accused and charge them with a crime. This does not mean they are guilty of the offence, but that they may be tried in court for a crime.
Seeking to lay criminal charges may be an appropriate response to unwanted and unwelcomed behaviours and may be the best course of action to resolve conflict, especially where alternative means to resolve the conflict have failed.
Clear and comprehensive anti-sexual harassment policies may prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Employers can strive to create anti-sexual harassment policies to help educate workers about the consequences of sexual harassment and help prevent this issue.
Policies which help employers and workers determine effective means to notice, address, and resolve sexual harassment can help stop sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace.
Some things employers can do to help prevent sexual harassment include but are not limited to:
Employees may be the first ones to notice sexual harassment in the workplace, long before management learns of any problems. Employees can act as a means of notifying appropriate authorities about sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace to help prevent further unwanted and unwelcomed behaviours
Some things employees can do to help prevent sexual harassment include, but are not limited to: