Improper conduct, degrading remarks, provocative attitude . . . Sexual harassment at work can quickly become intolerable. The law protects employees from sexual harassment which it defines is a form of psychological harassment.
What is sexual harassment?
There are many definitions of sexual harassment, but sexual harassment usually includes these elements :
- can be words, gestures, behaviour or physical contact of a sexual nature
- usually occurs repeatedly, but can also be one serious incident
- unwelcomed by the person targeted
- has a negative effect on the work environment, including a direct impact such as dismissal or disciplinary measures, or an indirect impact, such as an uncomfortable work environment
Am I protected against sexual harassment in the workplace?
Yes, several laws protect you.
These laws create these rights and responsibilities:
- You have the right to a workplace free of sexual harassment.
- Your employer must take steps to prevent sexual harassment and put a stop to it if it happens.
Solve the Problem at Work
You can talk about the situation with your employer and ask your employer to intervene to stop the harassment.
Every workplace must have a policy on harassment. Ask your human resources manager for information.
If you are unionized, you can contact your union to file a grievance.
Workers Falling Under Federal Laws
They include employees of the federal government and of banks, telecommunication companies, interprovincial transport companies and ports.
- If you are one of these employees, you are protected against sexual harassment by the Canada Labour Code and under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
- Begin by following the internal complaint process of your workplace. If there is no internal process or if you do not get the results you want under this process, you can file a complaint in your workplace.
- You can also file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Workers Not Under Federal Laws
(except self-employed workers)
- You are protected by a Quebec law called the Act respecting Labour Standards. You can file a complaint with the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) for psychological harassment. Sexual harassment is a form of psychological harassment. If you are unionized, you must follow the procedure in your collective agreement. If you are an employee of the Quebec government, you must send your complaint to the Commission de la fonction publique.
(including self-employed workers)
- You are also protected against sexual harassment by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. This means you can file a complaint with the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (Quebec Human Rights Commission).
In some cases, you only have the right to make a claim with the CNESST.
Remedies in Civil Court
You might be able to sue the person who sexually harassed you. You can go to court in a civil case to ask for an amount of money as compensation for the harm you suffered.
Complaint to the Police
You can also file a complaint to the police if the sexual harassment amounts to a crime. For example, a person who touches you sexually without your agreement can be accused of sexual assault.
Consult a Professional
In some situations, you can take more than one recourse at the same time. In other cases, you have only one recourse. A lawyer specializing in labour law can analyze your situation and explain your options.