Address sexual harassment

Last updated: December 15, 2021

The right to work without sexual harassment

We all have a right to work without discrimination, including the right to work without sexual harassment.

The Human Rights Code prohibits discriminatory conduct on many grounds, including sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Under the Human Rights Code, sexual harassment is considered a form of sex discrimination. 

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination and includes any unwelcome comment or conduct of a sexual nature that may detrimentally affect the work environment or lead to adverse job-related consequences for the victim.

The prohibited conduct, as determined by a reasonable person, may be verbal, non-verbal, physical, deliberate or unintended.

Examples of sexual harassment

Examples of sexual harassment include, but are not limited to:

  • A person in authority asking an employee for sexual favours in return for being hired or receiving promotions or other employment benefits
  • Sexual advances with actual or implied work-related consequences
  • Unwelcome remarks, questions, jokes or innuendo of a sexual nature including sexist comments or sexual invitations
  • Verbal abuse, intimidation or threats of a sexual nature
  • Leering, staring or making sexual gestures
  • Display of pornographic or other sexual materials
  • Offensive pictures, graffiti, cartoons or sayings
  • Unwanted physical contact such as touching, patting, pinching or hugging
  • Physical assault of a sexual nature

The definition of sexual harassment is not meant to inhibit interactions or relationships based on mutual consent or normal social contact between employees. 

What is the BC Public Service’s sexual harassment policy?

HR policy 11 – Discrimination, bullying and harassment in the workplace (PDF, 211KB) prohibits all forms of discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment.

The policy outlines expectations for workplace behaviour, roles and responsibilities for maintaining a respectful workplace and resolution and complaint mechanisms for employees who experience sexual harassment.    

Prevention of sexual harassment

Everyone has a role to play in building a respectful workplace. Our collective action matters, and we can all work together to build a culture where sexual harassment is not tolerated.

If there are inappropriate jokes or sexualized comments in your workplace, call them out. If you don’t speak up, you risk condoning the behaviour.

If you do not feel comfortable or if it's not appropriate to address the behaviour directly, seek the support of your supervisor. 

Your role as a supervisor

As a supervisor, employees look to you to set workplace expectations and model appropriate behaviours. It's important for you to focus on preventing inappropriate behaviour, including sexual harassment.

As a leader, ask yourself:

  • What tone are you setting in the jokes and stories you tell?
  • Have you heard someone in your workplace object to the turn of the conversation? What did you do?
  • Could sexual harassment occur in your workplace even if you’re not personally aware of it?
  • Are you fostering open communication for employees to share their concerns?
  • Have you discussed with your staff expected workplace behaviours and their responsibilities under the Standards of Conduct and HR policy 11 – Discrimination, bullying and harassment in the workplace (PDF, 211KB)?
  • Do your employees know how to report sexual harassment?

The steps you take can go a long way in creating a workplace culture where sexual harassment is less likely to occur.

Addressing sexual harassment: processes for union and excluded employees

HR policy 11 – Discrimination, bullying and harassment in the workplace outlines approaches for union and excluded employees to address sexual harassment.

For supervisors: dealing with an allegation of sexual harassment

As a supervisor, you are required to act if you receive a complaint or become aware of potential sexual harassment in your workplace. If you receive a formal complaint or if you become aware of suspected misconduct that may require disciplinary action, you must inform your supervisor and contact the BC Public Service Agency for advice and support. The obligation to report suspected misconduct is outlined in Appendix A of the Accountability Framework for Human Resource Management.

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