The Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (SHIW) Initiative aims to provide education and outreach services to raise awareness on how to recognize, address, and stop sexual harassment at work. As part of the project, Community Legal Assistance Sarnia is also offering free legal advice to survivors of sexual harassment at work. Read on to learn what we're about.
What is sexual harassment in the workplace?
The actual definition of sexual harassment found in the Occupational Health and Safety Act is:
engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker, in a workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression where the course of comment or conduct is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome, or
making a sexual solicitation or advance where the person making it is in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the worker and the person knows or ought reasonably to know the solicitation or advance is unwelcome.
Sexual harassment is distinct from the broader category of harassment more broadly in that it is based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (we'll look at what those are in a future blog post so stay tuned!).
"Known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome?" - What does that mean?
The definition itself can feel like a lot of jargon, but the phrase "known or ought reasonably be known to be unwelcome" really trips people up. Basically, this means that if you feel a comment or act against you constitutes sexual harassment, the investigation will consider if the person making the comment knew how it would be understood by the person experiencing the conduct and as well as how somebody else feel about the conduct. Rest assured, "I didn't know it was sexual harassment" is not a defense. Instead, this is meant to demonstrate that regardless of what the alleged harasser feels they were or were not doing, a reasonable person would know the conduct or comment to be unwelcome and inappropriate.
So what can sexual harassment at work 'look' like? Unfortunately, there are a multitude of examples to pull from.
It can look like a co-worker making derogatory comment about their queer colleague.
It can be a supervisor invading someone's personal space.
It can be that co-worker who keeps texting you, asking you out for a date even though you clearly said 'no'.
It can be comments about traditional gender roles that denigrate your female colleagues position in the company.
It can be your boss asking for sexual favors in exchange for a pay raise or promotion.
Sexual harassment can look different in different contexts, and it is important to remember that it can look different based on the intersectionality of people's identities. We will look at intersectionality and sexual harassment in a future blog post - it is an important theory by Kimberlé Crenshaw and it deserves it's own post.
So, what now?
The SHIW project will continue to blog here, so comment below for any topics you want covered or questions you want answered.
We are also offering educational outreach services to any organization, school, workplace, etc. who is interested in it. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we can also offer these sessions virtually.
Lastly, Community Legal Assistance Sarnia is here to offer survivors of sexual harassment in the workplace free legal advice. Contact us today!
“Code of Practice to Address Workplace Harassment.” Ontario.ca, www.ontario.ca/page/code-practice-address-workplace-harassment#section-1.
“Sexual Harassment in Employment (Fact Sheet).” Ontario Human Rights Commission, www.ohrc.on.ca/en/sexual-harassment-employment-fact-sheet.
“Understand the Law: Workplace Violence and Harassment.” Ontario Ministry of Labour, www.ontario.ca/page/understand-law-workplace-violence-and-harassment.