You didn’t ask to be sexually harassed. It’s not like you have a plan for this.
So the experts say that, before you do anything else, it’s a good idea to take some time to gather information. That should help you decide what to do next.
Here’s what you’re trying to figure out.
Does your work seem like the kind of place that tolerates harassment?
There’s no way to know for sure. But here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Is your workplace aggressive and competitive?
- Is leadership mostly male?
- Do some people at your work have a lot of power and others very little?
- Do people talk and joke about sex a lot?
- Do people openly make fun of other people?
- Are people openly racist or sexist?
- Have you ever seen anyone treated badly and nobody stopped it?
- Is there anybody who everybody knows harasses people but nobody has stopped them?
Those are all bad signs. If they describe your workplace, that would suggest your it may tolerate sexual harassment.
Here are some more questions:
- Does your workplace seem like it cares about fairness?
- Does your boss seem to care about you as a person?
- Is there an HR department?
- Have you ever had sexual harassment training at work?
- Is there a sexual harassment policy that’s easily available to you?
- Is your workplace pretty balanced in terms of gender?
- Are there women, 2SLGBTQIA+ people, and racialized people in leadership positions?
- Would you be able to report to someone who is not a man?
- Do you know and trust the person you’d be reporting to?
- When people at your work behave badly, does anybody stop them?
- Does your workplace seem like it respects the people who work there?
- Does it seem like it cares about them as people?
If any of those describe your workplace, that’s good. It suggests your employer may take sexual harassment seriously.
Why does this matter? Because employers vary a lot. Some are great and will quickly take steps to solve the problem. Some are awful and will punish you for even bringing it up. (That’s against the law, but it happens anyway.) It’s worth spending a little time thinking about your employer and how likely they are to handle this problem well.
Are there co-workers you can talk with?
Talking with co-workers can be really helpful, or it can cause you serious problems. It depends on the co-worker.
A good co-worker will believe you and support you. They might give you useful information and advice. They might be able to protect you from the person who’s harassing you, or help you persuade your bosses to take the harassment seriously.
A bad co-worker may judge you and gossip about you.
Before you talk with any co-workers, it’s worth taking some time to figure out who seems trustworthy.
Are there people with power at your work you might be able to trust?
Think about the people with power at your workplace:
- your own supervisor
- your supervisor’s boss, if they have one
- people in HR or scheduling
- anybody who has been working there for a long time
- anybody other people seem to take seriously
- anybody in a position of authority, even if they’re in another department or division
- your union rep, if you’re a union member, or someone else at your union, like a “women’s trustee” or a “human rights officer”
- anyone with responsibility for worker health and safety
What do you think about those people? Is there anyone who seems especially thoughtful or kind? Is there anyone you’ve ever seen defend someone weaker than they are, or step in to stop bad behaviour?
Why does this matter? Because later you might want to talk to someone with power and get their advice or help. It’s worth thinking now about who you might pick.
Is there a sexual harassment policy, and if so what does it say?
Some employers have a sexual harassment policy and some don’t. Large employers usually do.
If yours does, it might be posted on a wall, or on the company intranet if there is one. Sometimes it will be part of an employee handbook or an HR manual. The name of the policy might not include the words “sexual harassment.” If you can’t find anything with that title, look for phrases like “workplace harassment,” “workplace violence,” “sexual violence,” “respect in the workplace,” “code of conduct,” or “code of practice.”
If you can’t find anything yourself, you might be able to get a copy from your union rep or HR rep, if you have one. You might want to be careful about how you ask. Consider asking for the employee handbook or policy book, and maybe avoid saying why you want it, if your gut feeling is it might be dangerous to say why.
If you’re a union member, your collective agreement might also have information about sexual harassment. You can ask your union rep for a copy.
Why should you do this?If your employer has a detailed policy, it’s good for you to know what it says. If they don’t, that’s useful information too. At this point, you’re just gathering information, and the more you have, the better.
What other supports might be available to you?
This is a good time to start figuring out what other supports might be available to you.
Below, we’re going to give links to some specific organizations. We’re not endorsing them or their work, and we’re not saying they’ll be able to help you. They’re just examples of the kinds of supports that might be available. You should do your own research to find organizations and associations that might fit your situation.
- Some employers have an Employee Assistance Program, which offers confidential services for workers who are having personal and/or work-related problems. EAPs often provide free counselling. You can ask HR if there’s an EAP at your workplace.
- Some employers have health and safety committees, whose job it is to make sure the workplace is safe. You can ask around to find out if your workplace has one.
- If you’re unionized and don’t know who your union rep is, this is a good time to find out. You might also want to investigate whether your union has people dedicated to gender or human rights issues. Look for phrases like “human rights officer,” “women’s committee,” or “women’s caucus.”
- For some jobs, there are professional associations or membership organizations. Like, there is the Canadian Support Workers Association, the Canadian Teachers Federation, and Chartered Professional Accountants Canada.
- Some industries have associations representing workers with particular identities. Like, there’s the Federal Black Employee Caucus for Black people in the federal public service, and there’s the Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology.
- Some big employers have groups for workers with particular identities, like women, or 2SLGBTQIA+ people, or Indigenous people, or people with disabilities. These are often called “employee resource groups.” (Spotify has some, as do Magna, Air Canada, Manulife, BMO, Telus, and CIBC.) Sometimes these groups are official (sponsored by the employer) and sometimes they’re not. It’s worth poking around to see if there’s a group at your workplace for people like you.
- You might be able to find informal groups or communities online. Like, there’s a Facebook group for women welders in Canada. There’s the Canadian Restaurant Workers Coalition. There is Women in Forestry Canada. There’s a subreddit for women in tech. There’s the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. Serving with Pride supports 2SLGBTQI+ employees in policing, corrections, and criminal justice professions. There’s the Indigenous Professional Association of Canada.
Why does this matter? Experts say that, at this point, you should be looking around to see where you might find help if you need it. You might not want to reach out to these people and groups now, but you may want to later.
You’ve done a lot now. You’ve assessed your workplace, figured out who there you might be able to trust, figured out whether there’s a policy that might protect you, and identified some of the other supports that might be available to you later if you need them.
That’s great. Now you’re in a better position to figure out what you want to do.