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Sexual Harassment 

 
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Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination based on sex. It happens everywhere: at work, at school, in housing and in public places (streets, public transit, swimming pools, parks). It also occurs online (e-mail, social media, etc.)

Sexual harassment is a violation of human rights, including basic rights such as: the right to safeguard dignity, the right to privacy as well as the right to integrity. All these rights are protected in Québec by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

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Sexual harassment is an abuse of power by one individual (harasser) against another (victim).

Sexual harassment is:

  • a behaviour (words, actions or gestures) of a sexual nature
    • unwanted : causing discomfort or fear
    • repeated (asingle, serious act can also be sexual harassment)
  • which undermines the dignity and the physical or psychological integrity of the victim

For example :

  • Absence from work, needing to quit one's job, denial of a promotion
  • Skipping classes, failing classes or stopping studies
  • Developing a physical or mental health problem - psychological trauma, such as: loss of self-esteem, feelings of guilt, stress…

 

Sexual harassment can be:

  • Non-verbal
    • Looks, whistles, posting pornographic material, e-mails, text messages
  • Verbal
    • Sexist jokes, comments on physical appearance, questions about someone’s private life, threats, unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favours
       
  • Physical
    • Rubbing, touching, sexual gestures



What is the difference between sexual harassment and…?

Sexist harassment

Like sexual harassment, sexist harassment is based on prejudices and sexist stereotypes. However, sexist comments or acts are not of a sexual nature but based on gendered roles and attitudes assigned to men and women.

Definition

Sexist harassment is a conduct that shows up in repeated words, gestures, or behaviours that are vexatious or contemptuous of someone because of their sex. These acts refer to traits alleged to be uniquely feminine (or masculine), for example: women’s intellectual inferiority, women’s strong emotions, men’s insensitivity, etc.

Examples: Crude language, dirty jokes, insults, graffiti, etc.

 

Sexual assault

Unlike sexual assault, sexual harassment is not a criminal offense.

Definition

A sexual assault is an act of a sexual nature, whether or not it involves physical contact, carried out by an individual without the consent of the person to whom it is addressed or, in some cases, notably those involving children, by manipulation of feelings or blackmail.

It’s an act that aims to impose the assailant’s own desires on another person through the abuse of power, through the use of force or constraint, or through implied or explicit threats. Sexual assault interferes with fundamental rights, notably the right to bodily security and inviolability, and to physical and psychological security.

Examples: Touching, incest, sexual exploitation, child pornography, exhibitionism, voyeurism.

Source : Information Guide for Sexual Assault Victims 

 

Psychological harassment

Psychological harassment can take many forms, including sexual harassment.

Definition

Psychological harassment means any vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures, that affects an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that results in a harmful work environment for the employee.

A single serious incidence of such behaviour that has a lasting harmful effect on an employee may also constitute psychological harassment.

Examples: Offensive remarks, bullying, rumours, humiliation, disparagement.

Source : Act respecting labour standards, RLRQ, c. N-1. 1, art. 81.18


Sexual harassment: prohibited by law

In Québec, two laws prohibit sexual harassment:

The Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms 

Section 10.1 of the Charter prohibits discriminatory harassment which includes sexual harassment. Sexual harassment also contravenes sections 4, 10, and 46 of the Charter, as well as sections 1, 5 and 6 which protect fundamental rights. 
Learn more about the Charter 

No one may harass a person on the basis of any ground mentioned in Section 10

Namely: race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap.

Sections 10 and 10.1 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms


The Act respecting labour standards

Sexual harassment is recognized by the courts as a form of psychological harassment.
Note that these laws protect victims, including both women and men. The victim may be of the same sex as the harasser.
Read the Act respecting labour standards

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Who can stand up to sexual harassment?

Anyone who witnesses a situation of sexual harassment can take action to prevent harassment, whether in a position of authority or not.

  • in the workplace: managers, union members, colleagues
  • in academic institutions: school principals, teachers, etc.
  • in housing: landlords, witnesses


How can sexual harassment be prevented?

Here are some examples of measures for preventing or addressing sexual harassment when it occurs.

In an establishment (business, school, college, university, organization), a building, a union or an organization (e.g. board of directors)

  • set up internal policies to fight discrimination and sexual harassment
  • set up a mechanism for filing complaints and handling sexual harassment claims
  • make people in positions of authority (managers, faculty, etc.) aware of policies and mechanisms, in addition to informing staff members, students, etc.
  • maintain an environment that does not tolerate any form of discrimination or sexual harassment on any basis, including gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression
  • raise awareness, inform, train. For example, organize training sessions on sexual harassment and, more broadly, on discriminatory harassment, sexism and sexist stereotypes, and on rights protected by Québec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms
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Tools offered by the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse

The Commission has several tools to combat gender stereotypes and to understand and prevent harassment in the workplace.

Webinar
Understanding harassment in the workplace to better prevent it (in French only)

This webinar addresses issues related to discriminatory harassment and sexual harassment; the legal obligations of employers and the basics to set up and implement a workplace harassment prevention policy; and the remedies set out by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

 

Infographic
A Policy against discriminatory harassment in the workplace (in French only)

This document provides business managers as well as union officials with the elements of a standard policy, its main components and prerequisites for effective implementation.

 

Training session
Discriminatory harassment: nobody deserves this! (in French)

This session addresses the notion of discriminatory harassment, its features and its negative impacts on the rights of everyone involved.

 

Infographic
Dealing with sexual harassment: your role as an employer

This infographic presents the role of the employer in dealing with sexual harassment.

 

A Policy against discriminatory harassment in the workplace

This document provides business managers as well as union officials with the elements of a standard policy, its main components and prerequisites for effective implementation.

 

Document to better understand sexual harassment and the Commission’s role (in French only)

This document presents the Commission's recommendations for preventing sexual harassment and facilitating access to justice for victims. These were issued as part of the consultation on the report on the implementation of the government action plan on sexual assault.

 

Other sites and documents of interest

Sites

Documents

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