We’ve all seen the news, so we know that workplace harassment is an ongoing societal crisis. Harvey Weinstein might make the front page, but most times, workplace harassment occurs on a much smaller stage. I have experienced it, and many of my friends have as well. It can feel like your only options are to either endure the treatment or to lose your job, especially in positions where you don’t have access to a Human Resources department.
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, workplace harassment is defined as “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.” This definition includes workplace sexual harassment which is “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker, in a workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression where the course of comment or conduct is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome, or making a sexual solicitation or advance where the person making it is in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the worker and the person knows or ought reasonably to know the solicitation or advance is unwelcome.” If the conduct includes inappropriate touching, it may constitute as a criminal offense.
Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself from workplace harassment.
1. Know Your Resources
If the company has an employee handbook, read through it. Know what behaviour is explicitly defined as unacceptable and what the repercussions might be. Also, often the handbook will have instructions on who to report to if you are experiencing harassment.
2. Report It
Do not let the harassment simmer and get worse; report it immediately. Your employers have a legal obligation to protect you from harassment, but only once they officially know about it. You can tell your supervisor, manager or the Human Resources department.
3. Write Everything Down
I can’t stress the importance of this one enough. Document everything and keep the documentation on multiple devices, so that way if you lose access to your company computer, you still have access to the documentation. Keep track of the dates and times of all inappropriate conduct and who was there to witness it. File a report in writing and keep a written summary of all conversations you have regarding the harassment. Also, keep records of any documentation that you have that credits your performance at work. Hold onto any performance evaluations, references or letters that discuss the quality of your work. If possible, review your personnel file.
4. Find Allies
If other people in the company are experiencing similar treatment, ask them to also document and report their own instances. There is strength in numbers, both in the ability to apply pressure to the employer to take action and to avoid the sense of isolation that can come from experiencing harassment.
5. Know Your Legal Options
If your employer does not protect you from harassment, they are civilly liable for the damages that you incurred. It can be a long, difficult process but know that there is a path to justice if you’re ever a victim of workplace harassment.
Hopefully, these tips can provide you with some support if you’re experiencing workplace harassment, or just let you know what to do if the situation ever arises. Crossing my fingers that it doesn’t!