Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Workplace Harassment

What is Harassment?

Someone is harassing you if:

*he is doing things to make you feel uncomfortable;
*he is saying things to make you feel uncomfortable;
*he is putting you at risk in some way

The harasser will pick anything that makes you seem different from him. You might be harassed because of your:

*sexual preference;
*religious beliefs;
*birth place;
*political beliefs (including union activities).
You might be harassed just because the harasser doesn't get along with you. Someone might say that you are "as blind as a bat" or "retarded." Comments like these can be harassment. There are different kinds of harassment. Two common forms are sexual harassment and racial harassment.
Sexual harassment is any unwanted attention of a sexual nature, like remarks about your looks or personal life. Sometimes these comments sound like compliments, but they make you feel uneasy. Sexual harassment can include:

*degrading words or pictures (like graffiti, photos, or posters);
*physical contact of any kind;
*sexual demands.
Racial harassment is any action that expresses or promotes racial hatred and stereotypes. It can be obvious or subtle. It can include:

*spoken or written putdowns;
*other unwanted comments or acts.
Racial harassment can be hidden in questions or remarks that seem positive. Here are some examples:

"You are really pretty for a black girl."
"Tell me what it's like to always have your head and hair covered."
"Women from the Philippines are better at that than Canadian women."
"Native people are so good at crafts."
What is a Workplace?

Your workplace may be:

*an office;
*a factory;
*a building;
*a private home;
*a school;
*a store.
You may also work outdoors, on a road crew, or in a vehicle. The washroom, cafeteria, and locker room that you use are part of your workplace. So is any other place where your employer does business. Laws and policies are in place to protect you from harassment, no matter where you work.

You may work as a homemaker, nanny or nurse. You may go into someone's home twice a week to help with laundry and housekeeping. You may think that the rules about harassment don't apply in this workplace. In a private home, people are more free to do as they like, but you are still protected under the law. Different work environments mean different ways of dealing with harassment.
You may have to travel as part of your job. For example, you might:

clean people's homes;
repair equipment at different places;
go to conferences or sales meetings.

You may experience harassment while getting from place to place. This can also be seen as workplace harassment. Your employer can't guarantee that you won't be harassed on a bus or walking along a street, but your safety on the job or on the way to and from the job is their concern.
What is Workplace Harassment?

Workplace harassment is when someone harasses you while you are doing your job, or on your way to or from work. A harasser can be anyone you come in contact with because of your work. That person might be a:

*Member of your board of directors;
*delivery person;
*person in your union.
Harassment can happen anywhere in the workplace:

*in the lunchroom;
*in rest and washroom areas;
*in staff rooms;
*on the production line;
*in an office.
You might also be harassed outside of your workplace. It can happen at a Christmas party, on a business trip or at a meeting at someone's home. Harassment is not always workplace harassment. It depends on the situation, and your relationship to the harasser. If your boss is in your home and demands that you have sex with him, it is still workplace harassment. Your boss has power over you. He could make things hard for you at work if you say no. If the same thing happens with a coworker who has no power over you at work, it might not be workplace harassment. However, if the coworker harassed you at work later, it would be workplace harassment. The employer would be responsible for stopping it.
Your Right to a Safe Work Environment

You have the right to work in an environment that is free from harassment. Employers are responsible for providing this to all workers. You have the right to expect your employer to take your concerns seriously. It is against the law for anyone you come in contact with on the job to harass you. It is against the law for your supervisor to promise you a raise or job perks in return for sexual favours.

The law also says that you have the right to work in an environment that is not "poisoned" by harassment. You cannot help but be affected by what is happening in the workplace. Your employer cannot expect you to work if people around you are making sexual, racial or homophobic jokes or comments, or putting graffiti and pinups on the wall. All of these things can make it hard to work. They are bad for your mental wellbeing. They affect your work just as if the harassment were directed at you.

You have the right to ask your employer, your union, or an outside agency like the Human Rights Commission to take action against harassment.

Shelley worked at a large corporation which she said was "like a boy's club." She complained about sexual harassment. The same day, she was harassed for complaining. Only the supervisor, the man Shelley complained about and Shelley herself were supposed to know. The "boys," even the ones in the union, stuck by each other. They often made sexual remarks about Shelley, or other women, to her face. They would joke about not upsetting her. The workplace was often postered with pinups. When Shelley handed a written complaint to her supervisor, he said, "I don't need this shit." After she left her job, she filed charges with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against the corporation. She charged her employer with discrimination based on sex and with failing to provide a work environment free of sexual harassment.
What Does the Law Say Harassment is?

There is more than one definition of harassment under the law. Some forms of harassment are clearer than others. More work has been done on sexual and racial harassment than on other forms. You can check the books listed at the back of this guide to learn how the law has changed to cover these types of harassment. Some other forms of harassment are still being argued in court. Harassment challenges are happening in a range of workplaces.

The Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act name different forms of discrimination. You can turn to the section on THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION for more information. Some harassment cases have gone through the courts. The decisions that the courts have made set some precedents, or guidelines, for new cases.
In these precedentsetting cases, the courts have decided:

when employers are responsible for workers being harassed;
what is and is not acceptable behaviour;
to recognize the seriousness of the effects of harassment on women.

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