What is workplace sexual harassment and how do I report it?

Workplace sexual harassment is a pattern of sexualized actions or behaviours that are unwanted, unwelcome and harmful in the work environment. These behaviours are often insulting, humiliating and designed to offend you. It can happen over a series of times or it can be a one-time serious incident.

Sexual harassment at work is against the law in Ontario under the Ontario Human Rights Code, and the Occupational Health and Safety Act protects your worker rights against harassment and discrimination.  

Signs of sexual harassment at work include: 

  • Inappropriate or unwanted touching
  • Sexual comments, jokes, and rumours 
  • Making fun of your  gender identity and/or sexual orientation
  • Asking you for sexual favours (e.g. asking you for sex or a date even if you  have said NO)
  • Sending you unsolicited  sexual images, text messages, and emails
  • Many other behaviours that should be known to be unwanted, unwelcome, and harmful

Sexual harassment at work can be perpetrated by: 

  • Your company owner
  • A co-worker or colleague
  • A boss or manager (the manager you report to or from other departments)
  • A supervisor
  • A volunteer or intern at your work
  • Clients or customers at work

Sexual harassment at work can make you feel:

  • Fearful and anxious
  • Overwhelmed
  • Worried
  • Embarrassed 
  • Angry 
  • Guilty and shameful

REMEMBER: Workplace sexual harassment is NEVER your fault. 

How do I report someone who is sexually harassing me? 

Workplace sexual harassment can happen to ANYONE and can escalate outside of the workplace.  It’s important to recognize the signs of sexual harassment at work, accept your feelings and emotional responses, and know how to file a sexual harassment complaint at work. 

It’s your right to file a sexual harassment report at work, but it may not always be clear how you can safely file one. Do your research and learn what you should do if you are being sexually harassed at work.

 Keep in mind the following tips: 

  • Recognize and accept the behaviour/action is making you uncomfortable. If the behaviour is sexual, decide what you want to do to address it.
  • Research if your company/organization has a workplace sexual harassment policy - you can usually find the policy at your human resources department. The company policy should also include its own procedures for filing a complaint.
  • Choose who you file the report to at work, based on who you trust and who is harassing you.
  • Record all incidents of sexual harassment and follow up on all verbal communications about your complaint via email. 

Reporting sexual harassment may not be easy for you because of barriers. Barriers to reporting include but are not limited to: 

  • Stigma (negative stereotypes, thoughts, and beliefs on issues that are different or hard to talk about with people close to you) 
  • Fear of losing your job
  • Loss of income
  • Reprisal
  • Not knowing where you can get help
  • Other barriers (e.g. language, accessibility, culture, immigration status etc.)

It’s your individual choice whether you want to report. You may choose not to report at all and that is okay.

For help understanding your legal and community options available when dealing with workplace sexual harassment you can review the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC) resources.

You can also find support on sexual abuse and violence at your local sexual assault support centres and resources:

Prepared by: Human Rights Legal Support Centre

For More Information

Last updated: March 25, 2024 4006420