Rise In Workplace Harassment Causes Action To Be Taken

Jennifer Chan, 20, laughs nervously when asked “what is the creepiest thing someone has said to you while at work?”

“This year or ever?” Chan asks. She pauses a moment to think. “This guy would always come in to my work and ask for my number and at first I would always say no and pretend to be too busy to answer him. Eventually I told him I was fifteen years old and he said that I seemed really mature and he didn’t mind. He was like 27.”

According to a survey report released by Statistics Canada in 2017, one of the highest risks for sexual harassment in the workplace is because of "a high ratio of men in positions of power within the organization."

“Sexual harassment and creepy comments are so normalized that we laugh about them, and we compare stories and everyone has a story. It’s almost expected. If you’re a girl working at a restaurant or in customer service, at this age, someone has definitely said or done something creepy that made you uncomfortable,” Chan said.

Last year, Global News reported that 22 per cent of Canadians have been sexually harassed in the workplace and most instances go unreported for fear of repercussions. Global News also reported that for women facing sexual harassment, their perpetrators were their bosses, or other seniors within their companies.

“When you work in the public sector and customer service, you can’t really say anything, because if you say anything back or bad things, then they would leave, and your manager would be really upset,” Danielle Grieveson said, a 19-year-old communications student at Carleton. “It’s frustrating because it’s a space where everyone deals with it.”

Chan added youth plays a big part in treatment at the workplace. 

“This is how it is,” Chan said. “You’re young and inexperienced, you need money fast and making tips in restaurants guarantees that you can work shorter hours. And you accept the comments and the touches and it’s never treated as a big deal because there are definitely people who experience worse.”

“Not a big deal”

On Instagram, users replied to a post asking what made them feel uncomfortable at work.

One user wrote, "A man told me I look sexy holding a broom but I would look sexier holding his dick." Another said, in reference to whipped cream she was holding at the time, "when will you let me put that all over you?"

Many comments reported were about older men who complimented their youth. Two of which were "(He) asked me how old I was and when I didn’t respond he said 'old enough'” and "A man said if he was 40 years younger, I would be his girlfriend."

Most of the answers received were from people who identified as women/femme, but a handful of them were from men. As well, many repliers said they were happy more people were talking about sexual harassment publicly, rather than behind closed doors.

Rachel Evans, 19-year-old criminology major at Carleton said it starts with a conversation, and builds from there. 

“Putting something like this into the open really sparks a conversation and people can tell you like ‘hey this isn’t normal, report this’ and hopefully people become more mindful of what they say when they’re out at restaurants and at stores," Evans said. 

Preventing Sexual Harassment

In 2015, the government of Ontario introduced Bill 132, an action plan that made it a legal responsibility for employers to investigate all claims of sexual harassment and assault by employees. It also outlined that employers had to provide employees with information on sexual harassment, and what to do should it occur in the workplace.

“I think it’s a sound way to prevent sexual harassment between employers and employees and within employees, but if you work in customer service, customers will always say stuff because they don’t have the same rules to follow,” Evans said.

Grieveson said, “There’s not much to be done. The only thing that would be possible is if you, or someone complained and reported it to management.”

Meaghan Naim, former fast food chain manager, said when she worked at her restaurant they would take certain complaints seriously, while others were dismissed.

"We had safety talks every couple of weeks and we’ll remind our staff what sexual harassment is and how to report it. When it comes down to customers, if someone is throwing things and being outwardly dangerous and verbally abusive, we will take action," said Meaghan Naim, former fast food chain manager. "But the reality is that not everyone is going to be nice to you. We do take sexual harassment seriously, we just can’t protect our workers from every single bad person who comes in."

“You need to have thick skin as a woman in this industry,” Chan said. “Because even though there are people who say one time comments, those things happen daily from multiple different people and at the end of the day you don’t even feel that human. It’s exhausting and it’s really bad for your mental health.”

Statistics Canada also released in their survey report there are a large number of companies incorporating sexual assault policies. It is also said online workplace violence prevention training within those companies is the most common form with 28 per cent of responders saying they took part in it. 

It is also found more companies and stakeholders are looking to bring awareness to workplace violence as a means of prevention.