While sexual harassment in the workplace tends to garner the most public attention, office harassment is much more than just that. It can take on a number of different forms.
What is Harassment
The Ontario Health and Safety Act defines workplace harassment as engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. In other words, office harassment is when one employee says or does anything to another employee that makes that person feel uncomfortable. This can include offensive jokes, slurs, name calling, physical assaults, threats, intimidation, ridicule, insults, offensive pictures, uninvited comments or any other behaviour that may make someone feel uncomfortable at work. The important thing to understand about office harassment is that there are laws against it; it does not need to be tolerated and you have the right to speak up against it.
What to Do If You Feel You Are Being Harassed
If a colleague is doing or saying something to you that you don’t think is acceptable, speak up. If you feel comfortable doing so, tell the person directly that their actions or behaviour is making you feel uncomfortable. It is not considered rude or inappropriate to do so. Many times, the other person simply doesn’t realize that what they’re doing or saying is offensive to you. Once it is pointed out to them, the behaviour then stops.
If after speaking up the behaviour doesn’t stop, or if you don’t feel comfortable speaking with the person directly, then speak with your supervisor in confidence as soon as possible. By law, your employer has an obligation to ensure that everyone feels safe and comfortable in the workplace so speaking to your supervisor about another employee’s behaviour should result in action being taken to correct the problem. If the person making you feel uncomfortable is your supervisor, then speak with their supervisor in confidence or go directly to your company’s Human Resources department.
Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, employers have an obligation to keep the workplace free of discrimination and harassment. The law also ensures that there can be no retaliation against someone who reports harassment. This means you cannot be fired for reporting a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable. If you report harassment, your company must take the proper steps to deal with it. This can include speaking with the offending employee, worker training and/or disciplinary action.
If you don’t feel that the problem is being properly addressed, or you do not feel it is appropriate to speak with anyone in your company about the harassment, you can go directly to the Ontario Human Rights Commission to file a complaint.
Don’t dismiss office harassment as part of company culture or something you simply need to endure. You have a right to speak up for yourself and break the silence.