When we have emerging workplace concerns like harassment, a great place to start is education, as lack of awareness (knowledge and understanding) might be the opportunity. This month’s post provides information on how to define harassment and sexual harassment, as well as specific examples of harassment behaviours that must be addressed in the workplace.
What is Harassment?
Employment harassment can be defined as negative conduct, connected partially or wholly to a protected characteristic by Human Rights law, that negatively affects the work environment or has negative job-related effects. As further clarified by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, “A single negative comment is not a contravention of the Code, unless it is an egregious comment that, in the circumstances, negatively affected the work environment. Usually repeated conduct is required, though one comment may be discrimination depending on the circumstances, such as:
– The nature of the comment (how bad is it?).
– The nature of the relationship between the involved parties.
– The context in which the comment was made.
– Whether an apology was offered.
– Whether or not the recipient of the comment was a member of a group historically discriminated against.
What is Sexual Harassment?
As articulated by the Supreme Court of Canada (Janzen v. Platy Enterprises Ltd.,  1 SCR 1252, 1989 CanLII 97), sexual harassment in the workplace is broadly defined as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that negatively affects the work environment or leads to negative job-related consequences for the victims of the harassment.
Examples of Harassment in the Workplace?
Examples of harassment might include, but are not limited to:
– Joking based on personal characteristics and stereotypes i.e. religion, sex, race.
– Making fun of someone based on personal characteristics i.e. physical disability.
– Unwelcome, intimidating, abusive and threatening comments, questions and innuendoes i.e. directed at gender identity, pregnancy, sexual topics.
– Speaking over someone at a meeting i.e. because they are young, old, a woman.
– Unwelcome, intimidating, abusive and threatening gestures or physical contact i.e. blocking/restricting a person’s path/movement, getting in someone’s personal space/standing too close to them, hugging (or demanding hugs), massaging, grabbing, pinching, touching, or brushing up against someone’s body.
– Unwelcome behaviours, including gossiping, spreading rumours, giving someone sexual gifts, letters or materials. Spreading sexual rumours, including online.
– Offensive, insulting and demeaning cartoons, emails, graffiti, images, pictures, pornographic material, publications, sayings or quotes.
– Tormenting, annoying, bothering and embarrassing behaviour.
– Sharing sexual stories or history.
– Asking questions or discussion about sexual fantasies, sexual life and preferences.
– Making sexist remarks i.e. accusing a woman of being menstrual/pre-menstrual, expecting a woman to make tea/coffee and to keep the office clean.
– Looking someone up and down, staring at or making unwelcome remarks about someone’s body or any part of their appearance i.e. clothing, hair.
– Gender-related comment about a person’s physical characteristics or mannerisms.
– Comments or conduct relating to a person’s perceived non-conformity with a sex-role stereotype.
– Requiring an employee to dress in a sexualized or gender-specific way.
– Making sexual sounds, gestures, or sexually touching oneself which is observable by another person.
– Bragging about sexual prowess.
– Unwelcome sexual comments, innuendos and sexual requests.
– Propositioning for dates or sexual favours.
– Expressing or implying a promise of a reward for complying with a request or suggestion of a sexual nature.
– Expressing or implying a threat of reprisal, or actual reprisal, for refusal to comply with a request or suggestion of a sexual nature.
– Vexatious attacks.
For further information and training on anti-harassment, anti-bullying and discrimination prevention, check out our Human Rights at Work course and contact us to schedule a session for your team/organization today.