Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, sexual harassment is defined as “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought to be known to be unwelcome.” Sexual harassment is discriminatory. It damages the emotional, psychological, and physical well-being of the person it is aimed at. It hurts the person’s dignity and it is also unsafe. Sexually harassing a person because of their sex, gender, or sexual orientation is not only unacceptable: it is against the law.
In 2012, the Ontario Human Rights Code was amended to include “gender expression” and “gender identity” as new prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Code. While it doesn’t define these terms, the Code makes it clear that everyone has a right to freely express themselves in ways that affect the way they act, look, or dress that enable others to perceive their gender.
OPSEU is committed to ensuring that all its members are free from sexual harassment in their workplaces and anywhere OPSEU members gather.
OPSEU educationals are designed to build awareness of employer obligations to provide a workplace that is free from violence and harassment. In these courses, members are made aware of their rights to a safe and healthy workplace and are also informed of existing legislation that protects their rights under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the Ontario Human Rights Code.
Bill 132, which came into effect on September 8, 2016, amended the OHSA to include sexual harassment as a form of workplace harassment. Bill 132 obligates the employer to take sexual harassment prevention seriously while providing a framework to ensure that the employer follows and implements processes as outlined.
As we mark Sexual Harassment Awareness Week, we need to ensure that each of us has a safe work environment where all incidents of sexual harassment are reported and immediate action is taken to stop them. That means holding ourselves accountable, and it means holding each other accountable. We all have an obligation to keep informed and aware of our rights to a safe and harassment-free environment; we all have a responsibility to bring attention to all incidents of sexual harassment.
OPSEU members have a wide range of avenues to address sexual harassment incidents, for example through workplace health and safety representatives, Joint Health and Safety Committees, or the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
To find out more about what you can do to prevent and address sexual and gender-based harassment, please see the following:
- Ontario Human Rights Commission
- Sexual harassment in employment: a fact sheet from the Ontario Human Rights Commission
- Bill 132: Ontario’s New Sexual Violence and Harassment Legislation (Canadian Occupational Health & Safety Law)
– From the OPSEU Equity Unit.