Human Rights Basics Series
I have advised many clients about sexual harassment issues since I began practicing law in 2004. It never ceases to amaze me the things that people think it is OK to say and do at work. The news stories and debate about sexual harassment during the Trump campaign confirmed to me that there is still a need for education and information on the important issue of sexual harassment. In BC, the law is actually pretty clear when it comes to workplace sexual harassment.
Workplace Sexual Harassment is Against the Law
Now, that has got to be one of the most simple and straightforward statements that a lawyer has ever made. In British Columbia, one of our provincial laws is the BC Human Rights Code. Section 13 of the Human Rights Code states that discrimination at work based on sex (among other things) is not allowed. This makes sexual harassment at work against the law.
Elements of Workplace Sexual Harassment
The basic elements of the legal definition of workplace sexual harassment in BC are also not under debate. The elements were established by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1989 in a case called Janzen v. Platy Enterprises Ltd.,  1 SCR 1252, as follows:
Sexual harassment in the workplace is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that detrimentally affects the work environment or leads to adverse job‑related consequences for the victims of the harassment.
For conduct to be sexual harassment, it must be unwelcome. I often get the question, if coworkers are involved in a romantic or sexual relationship, is this sexual harassment? The Human Rights Code does not prohibit consensual relationships at work, as they are welcomed by both participants.
Conduct of a Sexual Nature
Sexual harassment takes place in many forms and can include everything from comments, emails, texts or sexual jokes to sexual propositions, persistent romantic pursuit, sexual touching or assaults.
Negative Impact on Work or Work Environment
Workplace sexual harassment has a negative impact on the victim. The negative impact can take many forms, from embarrassment and humiliation, to termination of employment, or differential treatment at work.
What to do about Workplace Sexual Harassment
Every workplace should have a harassment policy. If you are an employee dealing with sexual harassment, the first thing to do is look at your employer's harassment policy, which should set out a process for dealing with harassment and making a complaint. You may also want to consult with your union or an employment lawyer (like me) for advice.
If you are an employer, and you don't have a policy dealing with sexual harassment, you should speak to an employment lawyer (like me) about putting one in place. A policy including an internal harassment complaint process gives employers the chance to address these issues quickly and internally, rather than employees having to resort to complaints to the BC Human Rights Tribunal.
Tags: Workplace BC, BC sexual harassment law, Human rights bc workplace, BC work laws, Sexual harassment workplace, Sexual harassment laws BC
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