What to do when confronted with workplace sexual harassment

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How do you deal with sexual harassment at work?
WATCH: How do you deal with sexual harassment at work? – Oct 10, 2017

Stories are continuing to come out about actors who have been sexually harassed – or even allegedly sexually assaulted – by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

The scandal follows the firing of Bill O’Reilly after multiple women came forward alleging workplace harassment by the TV host. Meanwhile, tech companies such as Uber are trying to clean up their image following bombshell revelations of systemic sexual harassment in the male-dominated industry.

While such high-profile incidents make headlines, the average Canadian is certainly not immune to workplace sexual harassment.

Human rights lawyer Dan Soiseth says the Weinstein situation is highly unusual, but it’s still important to speak up about other types.

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“Even in an ordinary workplace there are going to be differences in power,” Soiseth told Global News. “You can imagine the new probationary employee as compared to the senior CEO of the company… so there are challenges to be met.”

A 2014 survey from Angus Reid says three in 10 Canadians experience sexual harassment at work, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission says in some industries, like the restaurant industry, is so frequent it’s just seen as “part of the job.”

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If you’ve experienced sexual harassment at work, there are a few steps you can take.

What is considered sexual harassment?

Before we get started, we’ll define what exactly sexual harassment is.

Sexual harassment is defined as “any behaviour that polices and reinforces traditional heterosexual gender norms,” and that includes physical as well as verbal abuse, the Ontario Human Rights Commission says.

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The BC Human Rights Commission says physical versions of harassment include pinching, grabbing, patting, rubbing, sexual assault, etc.

“In other words, any kind of touching that has a sexual connotation,” BCHRC states on the website.

Verbal harassment could be derogatory comments about a person’s appearance, making sexual propositions, or spreading false rumours or questions about an employee’s or co-worker’s sex life.

Another form is environmental, which includes the display of pornographic images, or inappropriate practical jokes.

Speak to the harasser directly

If you can confront them directly that’s an excellent first step, Soiseth says.

“Certainly standing up and speaking up are the best things you can do for it,” he said.

He says there can be a tendency for harassment to escalate, so if it starts out as leering or the harasser is just sort of testing the waters, it can sometimes progress from there.

“Sometimes [speaking out] will take care of the whole thing directly, and it’ll just come to a stop.”
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It’s not just on the victim to speak up either, anyone can speak to the harasser about the situation.

“Harassment poisons the whole work environment,” he said.

“Anybody who’s aware of sexual harassment should be speaking up you don’t have to be a victim of it to speak up.”

Find out what your workplace does

If the victim isn’t comfortable speaking to the harasser directly, they can go to their supervisor. If the supervisor is the harasser or if they aren’t comfortable with the supervisor, they should go to his superior.

Many workplaces, if they are big enough, have a policy on sexual harassment. Victims should familiarize themselves with that first, because it’s important to “go through proper procedure as much as possible,” Soiseth said.

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The legal ramifications of the Weinstein sex assault allegations

Take notes

The BCHRC says the victim should “prepare and keep a detailed record of the incident(s).”

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Soiseth says that’s because it’ll help with memory recall.

“If you end up in a more formal complaint, if it’s to the employer or the human rights tribunal or whoever, it’s just easier to remember the details if you’ve already written notes about it.”

If no solution, file a human rights complaint

If the harassment continues or if the workplace investigation or discipline is unsatisfactory, the victim can escalate the issue and file a human rights complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission or provincial human rights tribunals.

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