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When You are Being Harassed at Work

Harassment is one of the most uncomfortable situations that you will encounter at work.  Since it is difficult to avoid your harasser, you may start to feel like you are at their mercy.  You are not.  Workplace Harassment is not only unacceptable, it's illegal.  Under the Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution, harassment is defined as: "improper conduct by an individual, that is directed at and offensive to another individual in the workplace, including at any event or any location related to work, and that the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm. It comprises objectionable act(s), comment(s) or display(s) that demean, belittle, or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat. It also includes harassment within the meaning of the Canadian Human Rights Act (i.e. based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and pardoned conviction)"  Generally, harassment is a series of incidents but even one incident can qualify as harassment if it is severe and if it has a lasting impact on the individual.

Harassment is no joke.  It can be stressful and humiliating and it can instantly suck the joy out of work for you.  Nobody has the right to make you feel that way.  If you are being harassed, there are steps that you can take to address the situation and make the harassment stop:

Clearly state that the behaviour is unwelcome and ask them to stop.  While it may be completely obvious that nobody would want to be treated in the way that your harasser is treating you, there is always a chance that they don't realize how offensive their behaviour is.  Leave no room for doubt by clearly stating that you don't like it and you want it to stop.  When you make a clear statement, you eliminate their ability to use excuses like "I thought we were sharing a joke."

Document everything.  Since there is a good chance that this situation will be escalated, it is important that you keep detailed records.  Write down everything that happens including the date, time, location, exactly what was said or done and any witnesses that were present. 

Talk to your manager.  If the harassment continues after you made it clear that it was unwelcome, make an appointment to speak with your manager.  Explain what has been happening and how it has been impacting you.  Now that your employer is aware of the harassment, they are obliged to take action.   

Make a plan.  If the harassment continues after you have spoken with your employer, you need to make a plan.  You cannot continue to work in a situation where you are being harassed.  While you may want to consider looking for a new job for your own peace of mind, there are legal remedies available to you.  You can contact the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario if the harassment is based on race, colour, ancestry, ethnic origin, citizenship, where you were born, religious beliefs, physical or mental disability (including addiction), sex or gender (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or family or marital status.  If the employer is not following the law or its own harassment policy, you can contact the Ministry of Labour.   

Here are some resources that will help you determine the best way to address your unique situation:

Ontario Ministry of Labour

Worker's Action Centre

Human Rights Legal Support Centre

Remember that this is not a reflection on you.  Enduring harassment is extremely stressful and can impact every area of your life.  Don't make it worse by blaming yourself.  You are the victim and harassment is never deserved and is always unacceptable.  

Making this decision to address the harassment is a courageous move.  It can be scary and uncomfortable.  While it's easier not to rock the boat, this is the only way to make the harassment stop.  Just speak your truth and take it one step at a time.  It will get better.   

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image by rawpixel.com)