Sexual harassment

Woman holding up her hand as if to say stop

Harassment is conduct a reasonable person would consider objectionable or unwelcome. Learn your rights when harassment involves conduct of a sexual nature, as well as options if you’re sexually harassed.

Common questions

Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination based on sex. Sex discrimination occurs when you’re treated badly or denied a benefit because of your:

  • sex,
  • sexual orientation, or
  • gender identity or expression.

Sexual harassment can take many forms. It can be a physical act, like unwanted touching or kissing. It can be verbal, like making demeaning comments about how someone looks. It can also be less direct, like someone displaying inappropriate pictures at work.

Sexual harassment can have an impact in many settings. It can affect your ability to do your job, find somewhere to live, or otherwise enjoy activities of daily life. BC’s Human Rights Code prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, in specific contexts. The Code offers protection from sexual harassment when you’re shopping or receiving a service, renting accommodation, and working in your job.

There are three key elements of sexual harassment in the workplace:

  1. conduct of a sexual or gender-based nature,

  2. conduct that is unwelcome, and

  3. conduct that detrimentally affects the work environment or leads to negative job-related consequences.

If you’re being sexually harassed at your workplace, take action as soon as possible. Let the harasser know that you don’t accept the behaviour and you want it to stop. Tell them you’ll report it if it continues.

If dealing directly with the harasser doesn’t work, you can talk to your employer or someone in human resources. Find out your employer’s policy on human rights complaints. All employers in BC are required to have a policy on bullying and harassment, which should include a complaint process. If you belong to a union, talk to the union representative.

If the behaviour continues, you can make a human rights complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal. If the tribunal finds your complaint justified, they can make an order to stop the harassment. As well, they can order the harasser to compensate you for lost income or expenses and injury to your dignity, feelings, and self-respect.

If the sexual harassment you experience results in you developing a mental disorder, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation. See the WorkSafeBC website for further guidance.

We take you through these steps in detail in our in-depth coverage of if you’re sexually harassed at work.

Yes. The Ending Violence Association of BC and the Community Legal Assistance Society have teamed up on a project called SHARP Workplaces. Workers who are experiencing (or have experienced) sexual harassment at work can attend a legal clinic where they can speak to a lawyer for free. The lawyer can help you with all aspects of your case. For example, they can explain your legal rights, coach you through the complaint process, or help you draft documents.

The BC Human Rights Clinic provides legal help to people who have cases before the BC Human Rights Tribunal. You can speak to a lawyer or legal advocate — for free — who can give you advice or represent you in your matter.

Yes, it likely is. Sexual harassment is any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature. If your co-worker’s comments are of a sexual nature, and you’ve made it clear that you’re not okay with his behaviour, it’s likely sexual harassment.

For the steps to take to deal with the problem, see our guidance on if you’re being sexually harassed at work.

Who can help

BC Human Rights Clinic logo
BC Human Rights Clinic
Provides assistance and representation to workers who need help dealing with a provincial human rights complaint.
Call 1-855-685-6222Visit website
SHARP Workplaces
SHARP Workplaces
Offers free legal advice and support for those experiencing sexual harassment at work.
Call 1-888-685-6222Visit website
The Law Centre logo
University of Victoria Law Centre
Provides help with human rights claims for eligible people in Greater Victoria.
Call 1-250-385-1221Visit website
Migrant Workers Centre
Respect at Work Legal Clinic
A free legal clinic for newcomers to Canada who have experienced sexual harassment at work.
Call 1-604-404-1931Visit website

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed in August 2021
  • Time to read: 4 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Richard Johnson, Ascent Employment Law and Sara Hanson, Moore Edgar Lyster LLP

Richard Johnson, Ascent Employment Law
Sara Hanson, Moore Edgar Lyster LLP

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This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

Related

On Dial-A-Law

Dial-A-Law has more information on Rights at work in the section on Work.