Sexual Harassment At Work

Are you a victim, offender, or witness of inappropriate actions?

 Sexual Harassment At Work

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By Mark Swartz
Monster Contributing Writer


Who hasn’t made an off-colour joke every now and then at work? Or flirted with a colleague. Then there’s that sexy new intern…it’s hard not to leer as they swoop by enticingly.
 
All part of the harmless though racy workplace routine, right? Not if the object of your attentions is bothered by your behaviour. You could actually be guilty – or a victim – of workplace sexual harassment.
 
Headlines are buzzing with tales of employee sexual impropriety. If you’re unsure whether you’ve crossed a line, or if you think you or a colleague has been sexually harassed, read on.
 
What Workplace Sexual Harassment Is
In general, any "unwanted sexual behaviour" that occurs in a work-related environment is inappropriate. This applies within the workplace itselt, at the office party, away from the premises on business, even at home or online if the harassment extends that far. Wherever it takes place, it is a violation of your employee rights.
 
If there is consent by the person (or people) on the receiving end, sexual actions are not harassment. However there must be “true consent”: that is, there’s no consent if the person on the receiving end feels pressured, like when a boss insists on sexual favours or else the victim will be fired or demoted.
 
Some Eye Opening Statistics
A recent national survey reveals that 43% of women have experienced unwanted sexual overtures while working. In addition, 12% of men have been similarly violated.
 
Many cases of workplace sexual harassment never get reported. People quit or hush things up to avoid going public. However in reported instances, about 55% are perpetrated by co-workers. Occurrences involving a supervisor or manager total 39%. Those committed by a client or customer account for 13%.
 
Kinds of Sexual Harassment at Work
According to Canadian Labour Relations, an industrial relations management & training consultancy, sexual harassment incidents usually fall into one of the following four categories:
 
·         Gender Harassment
Includes negative remarks, belittling jokes about the opposite sex or about sexual orientation.
 
·         Non-Verbal Sexual Advances
Inappropriate or forced touching, intentionally getting too close, leering, making sexual gestures, displaying sexually explicit material such as pornography or degrading images in the workplace, and sexual assault.
 
·         Verbal Sexual Attention
Unwanted vocal flirting, asking questions about or referencing someone’s sex life, and pestering for dates or sexual favours.
 
·         Sexual coercion
Threats of demotion or job loss, or offering job benefits, in exchange for sexual favours.
 
A fifth category includes any of the above unwanted actions conducted electronically (e.g. by text, phone, email or social media posts).
 
Your rights As A Victim
Employers have a legal duty to protect their staff from physical or psychological harm. If you are being victimized by any of the above behaviours, you’re experiencing a "poisoned work environment".
 
This is illegal and accounts for most of the complaints received by Human Rights Commissions across the country. The Commission will prosecute both the offending employee and the employer (for not putting an immediate stop to it).
 
If the conduct is noxious enough, it might even provide you with the right to quit your job and sue for constructive dismissal. You could also sue the offending employee directly. However these should be last resorts. The first step is to consult the employee manual for procedures involving harassment or workplace bullying.
 
Should the employer not have a formal policy, or if management doesn’t seriously follow up in a timely manner, or management's results are unsatisfactory, there’s an option to seek help from an outside agency such as the local Human Rights Commission, or an employment lawyer.
 
Consequences for Harassers
No longer can harassers get away with a gentle slap on the wrist. Offending employees can be fired for “sexual harassment” in the workplace. And as noted above, they may also be sued by the victim for damages.
 
Note that inappropriate sexual actions need not rise to the legal definition of sexual harassment. They could still be a reason for termination, if the employer spots the offender as a potential problem for sexism or sexual harassment.
 
If You Think You’re Crossing The Line
Back to that seemingly harmless flirting, sexual joke telling, and oggling. How do you know if your behaviour is crossing the line into harassment?
 
Clearly one way to resolve uncertainty is to ask those on the receiving end if they find your actions troubling or offensive. That could be very embarassing for both of you. So when in doubt, just stop doing the things that could be interpreted incriminatingly.
 
Take It Seriously
Workplace sexual harassment is a form of discrimination and bullying. It is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that causes harm to a single victim or more. Sometimes it’s subtle. Other times it borders on sexual assault, a criminal offence.
 
Regardless, harassers and victims should know where they stand. As a victim, don’t sweep it under the rug. For offenders, reach out for clarity or help. The workplace should not be a toxic environment. Do the right things and help reduce the unacceptably high incidence of sexual harassment.