* This is a translation of “Sexual harassment and human rights in Ontario” published in March 2018, produced in English by CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario). Japanese Social Services is wholly responsible for the accuracy of this translation, produced with permission of CLEO.
Sexual harassment and human rights in Ontario
Sexual harassment at work has been in the spotlight recently with media coverage often focusing on celebrities and politicians. And the #MeToo movement has raised awareness about the widespread nature of the problem.
This month’s On the Radar talks about making a human rights complaint about sexual harassment at work.
Sexual harassment and human rights
Human rights laws give people the right to live free from discrimination. Harassment that goes against a worker’s human rights is a form of discrimination. This includes harassment because of:
Examples of sexual harassment
There are many ways in which people are harassed at work. Here are some examples:
- sexual comments about a worker’s appearance
- jokes about a worker’s sexual orientation
- insulting remarks about a worker’s gender expression
Harassment can also include:
- touching someone without their permission
- pressure from a supervisor or co-worker to get together outside of work, if this makes a worker uncomfortable
- being bullied because of something that’s a human right, like the right to express one’s gender
A single comment or event is usually not harassment. Most often, it’s when something is repeated or persistent that it’s harassment.
But something that happens once could be harassment if it’s serious enough and affects someone a lot. For example, touching someone in a sexual way might be harassment, even if it only happens once.
Harassment is different than workplace violence. If someone is assaulted or threatened while they’re at work, this is workplace violence.
There are steps people can take if this happens, including removing themselves from danger and calling the police.
Ontario’s laws say that employers must have a policy on harassment at work.
In a workplace that has at least 6 people regularly working there, the policy has to be in writing and posted where it’s easy for people to see.
If a worker reports harassment to their employer, the employer is supposed to:
- look into it
- take steps to stop the harassment
The law also says that employers are not supposed to punish workers who complain about harassment.
But before talking to an employer, it can be a good idea to get legal advice. This can help a worker understand what can happen and what their options are.
Making a human rights complaint
Most employers in Ontario must follow the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario deals with complaints against these employers.
A worker may be able to apply to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario if:
- they were harassed at work for reasons that go against their human rights, or
- their employer punished them for reporting the harassment.
What the Tribunal can do
If the Tribunal decides that an employer broke the law, they can order that the employer:
- pay money to the worker
- change things at work so a worker does not have to work with someone who harassed them
- change its practices so they follow human rights laws
The Tribunal can also order an employer to give a worker back their job if they were fired. But this rarely happens.
Industries covered by federal laws
Some industries are covered by federal laws. These are laws made by the Government of Canada and they apply throughout the country. These industries include banks, airlines, some trucking businesses, and broadcasting. The Government of Canada website has a more complete list.
Employers in these industries must follow the Canada Labour Code. The Canadian Human Rights Commission deals with complaints against these employers.
Being discriminated against or harassed often causes health problems for workers. Many workers become anxious or depressed. When this happens, they may want to talk to a doctor about it.
A doctor may be able to suggest treatment. And if a worker needs to take legal action, the doctor may be able to write a letter.
It’s also a good idea for workers to get legal adviceto help them decide what to do.
*This email alert gives general legal information. It is not a substitute for getting legal advice about a particular situation.