Harassment is defined as:
In most cases, behaviour must be repeated more than once in order to be considered harassment. Courts and tribunals have in some cases ruled that only one incident is sufficient to constitute harassment where the behaviour complained of is so egregious and so far beyond the scope of what is considered acceptable in our society that the person ought to have known it would be unwelcome even before the first incident of the behaviour.
This word has been defined as meaning without reasonable cause or excuse. Behaviour may be considered vexatious if there is no legitimate purpose behind it. As a result, showing racist posters for an academic purpose in a history, sociology or similar course at a university would not be considered harassment since the showing of such materials has a legitimate purpose; hanging the same posters in a workplace might be considered harassment.
These two terms are designed to include in the definition all possible types of behaviour, whether verbal, physical or other. Words can be harassing but so can physical actions like intimidating gestures or the posting or circulation of offensive cartoons or e-mails.
If the person accused of harassment subjectively knew that his or her behavoiur would be unwelcome, then it falls under the definition.
This clause creates an objective standard. If the person claims that he or she had no idea that the behaviour would be unwelcome, but a reasonable person in the circumstances would have known, then it also falls under the definition. This clause is designed to ensure that people can be held accountable for harassing behaviours even when they have willfully or negligently ignored indications that the behaviour is unwelcome. It also ensures that a person who is the target of harassment is not required to state clearly and unequivocably that the behaviour is unwelcome. In many situations, the power relationship between the two parties is so unequal that the target simply cannot stand up against the harassment for fear of reprisal — being fired from a job, being failed from a course, being assaulted, and many other such repercussions.
What is and is not harassment is defined according to the viewpoint of the target — what is acceptable behaviour to one person may not be acceptable to another. It is important to note that harassment can be found even if the person at whom the behaviour is directly targeted does not find it to be unwelcome but someone else who is exposed or affected by the behaviour does find it unwelcome. Thus, racist comments made to one person who is not bothered by them might still be harassment if they are overheard by another person who is bothered by them.
- Threats, intimidation, or verbal abuse
- Unwelcome remarks or jokes about subjects like your race, religion, disability or age
- Displaying sexist, racist or other offensive pictures or posters
- Sexually suggestive remarks or gestures
- Inappropriate physical contact, such as touching, patting, pinching or punching
- Physical assault, including sexual assault
Strategies to deal with Harassment
If you are being harassed
Depending on the nature of the harassment, you might consider taking some of these steps:
- Ask for help. Discuss the situation with the appropriate office within your organization or your provincial human rights office and find out how you can resolve the situation. All discussions are confidential and there is no obligation on you to act.
- Tell the harasser to stop. If you are too upset at the time of the incident, calm down and then ask the harasser to stop the behaviour. If it is too hard to speak to the harasser, try sending a letter or email. Identify the incident(s), state what you found objectionable in the harasser's behaviour and say clearly that you want the harassment to stop. Keep a copy of all correspondence.
- Keep a record. Record dates, times, nature and details of incidents, names of witnesses, if any, and your response at the time. If you know of others who are being harassed by the same person, consider asking them to document their experiences.
- Protect yourself. If possible, avoid being alone with the harasser. If you have contact, written or verbal, stay calm and avoid resorting to behaviour that could lead to charges of harassment against you.
- Get support. Find someone supportive who will respect how you feel and tell them about the harassment. They could make sure you are not left alone with the harasser or be present should you decide to confront the harasser or support you as you decide how to deal with the harassment. See your doctor if you are having health-related problems as a result of the harassment.
If you witness harassment
Consider the following courses of action:
- Let the target of harassment know that you witnessed what happened and offer your support as they take action to deal with the harassment.
- If it will not jeopardize the target of the harassment, make the harasser aware that you have witnessed and disapprove of the behaviour.
- Record any incidents of the harassment that you witness.
- Witnessing the harassment can be upsetting.
- Contact the Provincial Human Rights Office and to find out what your options are under the provincial policies.
If you are a supervisor
As A Supervisor, you are advised to do the following:
- Contact Human Rights and Equity Services for advice and guidance.
- Establish and Communicate Clear Expectations. Make it clear that inappropriate behaviour will be subject to discipline just like any other performance issue.
- Communicate the meaning of Harassment and Discrimination and make it clear that they will not be tolerated.
- Be a role model. Ensure that your own behaviour is free of harassing or discriminatory elements.
- Step in if you witness inappropriate behaviour, intervene immediately, but respectfully.
- Document every discussion and step you take.
- Monitor your workplace. Look for inappropriate behaviour and intervene if you see it.