How can you tell if what you’re experiencing is sexual harassment?
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Important! This is just general information, not legal advice. If you need legal advice, we urge you to find a lawyer who can help you.
If you feel you're being sexually harassed, you're probably right. It is very rare for people to mistakenly feel like they're being sexually harassed. You know your situation best, and if what's happening feels to you like sexual harassment, it almost certainly is.
You might wonder if it's workplace sexual harassment if it happens to everyone and is happening all the time
There are lots of workplaces where sexual harassment is extremely common. Like in bars and restaurants, or very male environments like construction work, policing, or the military. There, the people getting harassed often see it as "just part of the job," and sometimes they decide that must mean it's not real sexual harassment.
But it is. There may not be much you can do about it. It may be completely "normal." It may seem like nobody cares. But it's still workplace sexual harassment. It shouldn't be happening, and it's prohibited under Canadian law.
You might wonder if it's sexual harassment if it's not your boss harassing you but somebody else
It is. In fact, most workplace sexual harassers aren’t the boss. Most are clients and customers, or co-workers.
That is workplace sexual harassment, and it’s prohibited under Canadian law.
You might wonder if it's workplace sexual harassment if it's not happening at work
If somebody related to your work is harassing you, it's workplace sexual harassment, even if it happens:
when you're at home
on the street, on a bus, in a parking garage, or some other public place
at a work party, training, conference, or other work-related event
while you're travelling (in a car, on a bus or plane, at a hotel) with co-workers to or from a workplace or work-related event
Workplace sexual harassment doesn't only happen at work. If someone from your work is sexually harassing you, it can still be considered harassment even if it happens somewhere other than at your workplace, and it’s prohibited under Canadian law.
You might wonder if you're being harassed for sex- or gender-based reasons, versus whether it's because of your race, religion, or some other reason
It's very common for people to be unsure of exactly why they're being harassed, or to suspect that there's a mix of reasons. A Muslim woman may not know whether she's being harassed because she's Muslim or because she's female. A gay Anishinaabe man may not know whether he's being harassed because of his sexual orientation or because he's Indigenous.
The reality is, it shouldn't and doesn't matter. It's prohibited to harass people on the basis of their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, and also on the basis of their race/ethnicity, disability/ability status, and their religion. All those characteristics are protected, which means people can't harass you because of them.
You are not responsible for figuring out exactly why someone is harassing you.
If you’re being harassed on the basis of your sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, even if you are also being harassed for other reasons, that’s workplace sexual harassment. It shouldn't be happening, and it's prohibited under Canadian law.