But he never made a pass at me…

Photo via Thinkstock
Photo via Thinkstock

Sexual harassment laws in Canada

By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor

It’s no secret that there are sexual harassment laws in Canada. Even for the most basic of burger-flipping jobs there’s a training video or a sub-section in a manual explaining that unwanted sexual advances have no place at the job site. But is that really all that the laws say?

Recently a friend of mine, who was working in a commercial pastry kitchen that supplied several major restaurants in the downtown area, was having some trouble with her new head chef. He was being derogatory towards women and there was clear preferential treatment of the male employees. When I told her to go to human resources (HR) and file a sexual harassment claim, I was met with, “… but he never made a pass at me …”

If you look up the law, it clearly states that in Canada sexual harassment doesn’t just cover unwanted sexual advances.

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, sexual harassment also includes “… using rude or insulting language or making comments that stereotype girls, women, boys, or men,” “… making comments about a person’s physical appearance (for example, whether or not they are attractive),” and “… saying or doing something because you think a person does not fit sex-role stereotypes.” Put into layman’s terms, this means any discrimination in the workplace based on gender constitutes sexual harassment.

Here is where the water gets a little murky.

My friend had been to HR and had filed complaint after complaint about the head chef’s behaviour. Despite explaining the issue in great detail to several of the company’s HR representatives, at no point was the extent of the law about sexual harassment ever explained or brought up.

So you might now be wondering why the company’s HR never informed my friend that she could file a sexual harassment claim.

To put it very bluntly, the HR representatives work for the same people that everyone else in the company works for. Had my friend filed a sexual harassment claim, HR would have had to eventually report the claim to the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training (responsible for labour), who would have come down on the company. By not informing people about the extent of the law, they are saving the company time and money. I know it sounds cynical, but HR is oftentimes an intermediary between a large company and its employees, with the employees’ interest being secondary.

Therefore, the safest course of action is to know the law yourself.

If you are confused or are unsure if your own workplace situation is conforming to the sexual harassment laws, talk to a union representative. Unlike HR departments, union representatives are there to act as intermediaries between employees and their unions—meaning neither the company nor your employer’s interests are a factor. If your workplace doesn’t have a union, talk to the ministry; they offer free legal advice and if necessary, will send an informed representative to negotiate on your behalf.