Employers are responsible for creating and maintaining a work environment free from all harassment, including sexual harassment. Legally, a company must respond to and address any complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace. If you believe you are being sexually harassed at work, contact a sexual harassment lawyer to discuss your legal options.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment is a pattern of unwanted, harmful, or offensive sexualized behaviours. However, a single serious incident may also be considered harassment in some instances.
Sexual harassment comes in many forms. It impacts all genders, may be physical or verbal and can be perpetrated by coworkers, supervisors, company owners, or clients. To help individuals identify sexual harassment in the workplace, the Ontario Human Rights Commission published a list of inappropriate behaviours. The list includes:
- Unnecessary or unwanted physical contact
- Derogatory or suggestive, gender-based language or comments
- Displaying or circulating pornography
- Sexual jokes
- Questions or discussions about sexual activities
- Requiring employees to dress in a sexualized or gender-specific way
- Threats to penalize an individual who refuses to comply with sexual advances
What should you do if you are sexually harassed at your workplace?
Sexual harassment can have devastating emotional and physical impacts on an individual. If you have experienced sexual harassment at your workplace, it is important to recognize your emotional reaction and decide on the appropriate response for your situation.
It is your legal right to file a sexual harassment claim. Every workplace must have policies prohibiting harassment and procedures in place to help employees file claims.
When filing a sexual harassment report, keep a written record of the events, including what happened, when and where it happened, who was involved, who witnessed the incident, and your response.
If possible, you may contact your human resources advisor, union leader, or a trusted supervisor to resolve the problem through workplace policies. Be sure to keep copies of your complaint, as well as any responses you receive.
Using an internal reporting process does not replace your right to pursue other legal recourse for sexual harassment. If you feel your company is not supporting your complaint, it is important to contact a sexual harassment lawyer who can help navigate other legal avenues.
What legal actions can you take?
If you decide to take your report of sexual harassment further than internal company processes, there may be several options for legal recourse.
- Occupational Health and Safety Act: Employers are legally obligated to provide a safe work environment for employees, including one free from sexual harassment. The Ministry of Labour may investigate the company’s safety requirements to determine if they have failed to create a safe workplace.
- Ontario Human Rights Tribunal: The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination based on sex and gender. If you have been sexually harassed at your workplace, you may be entitled to compensation or other remedial actions under the Human Rights Code.
- Civil suit: You may pursue damages in a civil court where a lower standard of proof is required than in criminal courts. The court may award you compensation for the physical or emotional harm caused by the harassment.
- Criminal law: Sexual harassment in the workplace can be a criminal offence. If the incident involves attempted or actual physical violence, threats of violence, or stalking, you can report the harassment to the police. The police will investigate and decide whether or not to lay charges.
Sexual harassment is illegal in Canada, and you have the right to a safe work environment. If you have been sexually harassed at your workplace and require a sexual harassment lawyer in Toronto, contact Lecker & Associates – Disability and Employment Lawyers Toronto.