What is workplace sexual harassment?
In Ontario, workplace sexual harassment is defined by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Generally speaking, it is harassment of a sexual or sexualized nature. It might include any of the following:
Unwelcome sexual advances or solicitations, especially by a superior
Sexist comments or jokes
Homophobic or transphobic comments or jokes
Exposure to inappropriate sexual media or other content
While normal workplace harassment usually involves an ongoing course of conduct, even a single occurrence of some of the above could constitute workplace sexual harassment, such as an unwanted sexual advance by your boss.
Which laws protect me from workplace sexual harassment?
Your employer has a duty to protect you from workplace sexual harassment under the OHSA and the Ontario Human Rights Code. In extreme cases, you may be left with no other option than to quit and claim constructive dismissal .
What can I do about workplace sexual harassment?
Workplace sexual harassment can be deceptively difficult to identify. As explored in depth by the #MeToo movement, many survivors of workplace sexual harassment cannot immediately come to terms with what has happened. It may be difficult or painful to talk about, however, the first step to ending workplace sexual harassment is for survivors to identify and report it.
Who do I report workplace sexual harassment to?
The OHSA designates your employer as the first line of defence against workplace sexual harassment. In fact, the OHSA specifically requires your employer to establish a procedure for you to report workplace sexual harassment, and all such complaints must be investigated appropriately.
Despite this, you may wish to consult a qualified employment lawyer, especially if you feel unsure of what steps you should take.
What if the harasser is my boss?
There are few situations in the workplace more difficult than this. If possible, consider whether there is anyone else you can report the conduct to.
What if my employer refuses to help me? What if there is no one else to report the sexual harassment to?
If your employer refuses to help you, or if the harasser is your boss and there is no one else you can report to, it is time to consider legal action.
If you complain about workplace sexual harassment to your employer and you are fired or otherwise punished as a result, this constitutes a "reprisal" under both the OHSA and the Ontario Human Rights Code. You can make a reprisal complaint to the Ontario Labour Relations Board or to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, which has the power to award you damages for lost wages, and injury to your dignity, feelings and self-respect.
If the sexual harassment leads to a poisoned work environment that makes your continued employment intolerable, you may be able to quit and sue your employer for constructive dismissal.
We recommend that you speak to the employment lawyers at Hyde HR Law before taking any of these steps, to help you evaluate risks and guide you through any decisions that could affect your legal rights.
What can Hyde HR Law do for me?
The employment lawyers at Hyde HR Law are experts in identifying, analyzing, and pursuing resolutions to workplace sexual harassment. Our lawyers are considered experts in the field of workplace harassment and sexual harassment and have delivered presentations to employers on the topic. We can advise you on how to fight back against workplace sexual harassment, and if all else fails, vigorously represent you in any legal proceedings. Contact us today.