Women should feel safe and free from harassment in every aspect of their life; however, as many as 90% of women report they’ve experienced sexual harassment at work.
What is Sexual Harassment?
The BC Human Rights Code does not define what constitutes sexual harassment.
However, the Human Rights Tribunal has interpreted this term broadly, finding that discriminatory conduct exists on a continuum from overt sexual behaviour–like unsolicited and unwanted physical contact and persistent propositions– to more subtle conduct–such as gender-based insults, taunting or the display of sexualized material–which may reasonably be perceived to create a negative psychological and emotional work environment.
A single act may be found to constitute sexual harassment if it is deemed serious.
Is Your Employer Legally Required to Protect You from Sexual Harassment?
All employers in British Columbia are legally obligated to provide a safe working environment for their employees free from discrimination and harassment. Employers must take steps to protect employees from sexual harassment, regardless of whether the inappropriate conduct is perpetrated by management, other employees or clients/customers.
What Can You Do if You Are Being Sexually Harassed?
If you are being sexually harassed at work there are the steps you should follow:
- Report the offensive conduct to management: Your Employer ought to be made aware of the inappropriate conduct and given an opportunity to remedy it. This is important because it may resolve the situation quicker or will provide evidence that the Employer was aware of the situation and failed to do anything about it, which will be very helpful if you decide to file a human rights complaint.
Research whether your workplace has a harassment policy and/or process for filing complaints and adhere to that process for reporting. If your workplace is unionized, contact your union for assistance.
- Keep a detailed record: Regardless of whether your complaint is resolved within your workplace or escalates to a human rights complaint, it is important to keep detailed notes about what was said/done, when, where, by whom, etc. Don’t rely on your memory alone – memory fades and if you do decide to file a human rights complaint, this information will be of great assistance.
- File a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal: If the Employer fails to satisfactorily resolve your complaint, consider filing a human rights complaint. If your workplace is under provincial jurisdiction (which most BC workplaces are), this complaint will be filed with the BC Human Rights tribunal (http://www.bchrt.bc.ca/ ).
If your workplace is under federal jurisdiction (i.e. banks, aviation, interprovincial transportation), you will need to file your complaint with the Canada Human Rights Commission (http://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/).
There are many great resources online to assist you with filing a human rights complaint, including through the BC Human Rights Clinic (http://www.bchrc.net/ ).
Although you do not need a lawyer to file a complaint, it may be useful to consult with one prior to filing. Consider contacting the BC Human Rights Clinic to see whether you qualify for legal representation and/or for assistance in filing your complaint.
YWCA Metro Vancouver is dedicated to bettering the lives of women and their families through advocacy and integrated services that foster economic independence, wellness and equal opportunities. If you'd like to contribute to the YWCA Metro Vancouver's efforts to provide legal support and education to vulnerable single moms to help them rebuild their lives, donate here.
Amanda Rogers is a barrister, solicitor, YWCA committee member and guest blogger.