Address Sexual Harassment

We all have a right to work without discrimination, including the right to work without sexual harassment. The BC Human Rights Code prohibits discriminatory conduct on many grounds, including  sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression. Under the Human Rights Code, sexual harassment is considered a form of sex discrimination.

What is Sexual Harassment?

For BC Public Service employees, sexual harassment is defined in Human Resources Policy 11 - Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace and collective agreements, as follows.

“Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination and is defined as 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 of the harassment.”

Any comments or conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace, or away from the workplace during or outside working hours if a connection to the employment relationship exists, may be unwelcome.

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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; and
  • 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?

The Standards of Conduct outlines expectations that all employees must follow as a condition of employment. This includes the expectation that “Employees are to treat each other with respect and dignity and must not engage in discriminatory conduct prohibited by the Human Rights Code.”

As well, the BC Public Service has a specific discrimination and harassment policy called Human Resources Policy 11 - Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace. This policy covers harassment that occurs “at or away from the workplace during or outside working hours if a connection to the employment relationship exists.” It outlines:

  • discrimination and harassment for excluded employees
  • the complaint procedures for excluded employees
  • the adjudication process for bargaining unit employees 

For more information, read the complete policy.

Prevention of Sexual Harassment

If comments or conduct of a sexual nature are part of your workplace culture and are unwelcome to you or others, you can set a more professional tone by discouraging them. You can do this by making a comment or request at the time or by having a conversation with someone afterward to ask them to not make the sexual comment or engage in the sexual conduct that is unwelcome.

Use your best judgment and respect others when deciding how to conduct yourself. If someone asks you to change a behaviour such as hugging or sexual jokes, be respectful and understand that your conduct or comments are unwelcome to that individual. If initiating, involved in, or ending a romantic relationship with someone in the workplace, communicate clearly, and respect boundaries related to workplace behaviour.

If you are a manager or supervisor

Sexual harassment can have a serious impact on victims and can negatively affect employee morale and productivity. It’s important for managers and supervisors to identify warning signs and focus on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. For example, as a leader, ask yourself:

  • What tone are you setting as a leader in the jokes or stories you tell?
  • Whether you have heard someone in your workplace object to the turn of the conversation? What did you do?
  • Even if physical contact such as rubbing shoulders and hugging may seem harmless, how may another person experience this type of behaviour?
  • 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?

It’s important for employees to know about their obligations to contribute to a positive work environment under the Standards of Conduct, and for supervisors to understand how to deal with an allegation of sexual harassment.

Resolving Sexual Harassment: Processes for Union and Excluded Employees

HR Policy 11 outlines approaches for union and excluded employees to respond to sexual harassment they are experiencing. 

For union employees

Bargaining unit employees should follow the process set out in the applicable collective agreement:

  • BCGEU: Article 1.9
  • BCNU: Article 1.05
  • PEA: Article 1.09

HR Policy 11 provides an adjudication process for complaints of discrimination or sexual harassment that have not been resolved using the process set out in the applicable collective agreement. Refer to the full policy for details of the adjudication process.

For excluded employees

As outlined in HR Policy 11, excluded employees may choose to use an informal process to resolve a situation:

"An employee who believes that they have a complaint of discrimination or sexual harassment may approach their supervisor, association representative, or other contact person to discuss potential means of resolving the complaint. A matter is considered to be resolved if it is dealt with to the complainant’s satisfaction."

If the matter is not resolved to their satisfaction, or if they choose not to proceed informally, there are other steps excluded employees can take. Refer to the full policy for details. 

For Supervisors: Dealing with an Allegation of Sexual Harassment

A supervisor must take steps to review any complaints of sexual harassment and follow through with appropriate action. If sexual harassment is alleged, particularly if there is suspected misconduct that may require disciplinary action, contact AskMyHR immediately for guidance.

Resources & Support

There is a range of information, tools and services to help employees and managers/supervisors prevent, identify, assess, and manage workplace issues, including sexual harassment.

Learn about proactive approaches to promote respectful workplaces and guidance for addressing workplace issues including discrimination and harassment.

The Learning Centre offers a Discrimination Prevention Workshop as well as Building a Respectful Workplace: For Supervisors and Staff.

This service assists employees in managing conflict by focusing on problem solving, effective communication, and preserving relationships in the workplace.

The BC Public Service offers Employee & Family Assistance Services through a contracted service provider. These services, including short-term counselling, are designed to support employees and the family members who reside with them through a range of work, health, and life challenges, including difficult workplace situations.

The People Leader Advice Line is available to managers and supervisors for guidance on how to address a difficult workplace situation or conversation. You have access to expert, over-the-phone counseling and advice for handling sensitive workplace issues through your Employee & Family Assistance Services (EFAS) provider. Call 24 hours a day, seven days a week: 1-800-655-5004.