Am I Being Sexually Harassed at Work?
Does this sound familiar? Lately, you’ve been starting the day with a lump in your throat. You dread going into your workplace. You feel alone and disrespected, but you can’t pinpoint an exact reason.
As time goes on, your feelings escalate into overwhelming shame and helplessness. Your coworkers seem to laugh everything off, why can’t you? Only after weeks or even months of reflection, do you ask yourself an important question: Am I being sexually harassed at work?
If you can recognize yourself in this description, know that you are not alone. Sexual harassment is unfortunately common in Canadian workplaces. A third of employees have experienced harassment at work. However, this figure may actually be much higher as many incidents of sexual harassment go unreported.
Why Workplace Sexual Harassment Can Be Difficult to Identify
Nearly every workplace delivers a sexual harassment awareness training to its employees. However, the most obvious types of sexual harassment, such as being pressured for sexual favors or inappropriate touching, are not the most common.
If you’re struggling to answer the question “Am I being sexually harassed at work?”, consider the following:
Not all harassment is sexual
The term sexual harassment can be a bit confusing. While it does include harassment of a sexual nature, it can also include behaviors that are not driven by sexual attraction or desire.
Hostile environment harassment includes any unwelcome, ongoing behavior that a worker is subjected to because of their gender, sexual orientation, marital status, or other protected status.
Here are a few examples of hostile environment sexual harassment:
Inappropriate jokes about an individual’s gender, orientation, or relationship status
Posting pornography or sexual images in the workplace
Leering or lewd remarks
Physically blocking an employee’s movements
Sexually charged conversations
Intimidation, violence, or disrespectful comments toward a worker because of their orientation or gender
Exposure to pornographic material is also considered workplace harassment. This can occur due to toxic work environments that promote or encourage this behavior.
Workers may also be exposed to sexually explicit materials by a colleague with a sex addiction. A recent study showed that traffic for the majority of pornography sites peaks between 9am and 5pm. Employees who engage in their sex addiction at work can put themselves and their companies at risk of termination, lawsuits, and legal problems.
Harassment does not need to occur in the workplace
Many people also believe that harassment must take place on-site during work hours in order to be classified as workplace sexual harassment. This is not the case.
Employers are still responsible for investigating harassment that occurs at work-related events, such as business trips or office parties. Likewise, after-hours incidents can be classified as workplace harassment if the company’s employees, vendors, or clients are involved.
For this reason, employers must invest in thorough sexual harassment prevention training that clearly outlines behavior expectations for all of its employees. Unfortunately, even with the most comprehensive policies in place, sexual harassment still happens. Affected employees can bear the emotional brunt of enduring harassment for months or years to come.
At Peter Stathakos and Associates, we specialize in supporting victims of workplace sexual harrassment. If you or someone you know is still reeling from their experience of abuse, our caring therapy team can help. Contact us today for a free introduction session.
Harassment does not need to involve a power dynamic
One common misconception about workplace sexual harassment is that the perpetrator must hold authority over the victim. This scenario describes one form of sexual harassment, often called quid pro quo.
A boss, supervisor or other authority pressures a subordinate for sexual favors in exchange for a promotion or raise. Conversely, the perpetrator may use their authority to punish the victim for rejecting their advances.
However, most incidents of workplace sexual harassment happen between colleagues. Upper management can also experience harassment from lower-level employees. You do not need to fear the loss of your job to experience sexual harassment at work.
Am I Being Sexually Harassed at Work, Even if it Seems Like a Grey Area?
If You Feel Harassed, The Law Is on Your Side
If you have experienced any of the following in your workplace, chances are sexual harassment has occurred:
You have expressed your discomfort/disapproval of a behavior, but it continues
You fear expressing your true feelings about the behavior will lead to retaliation
You feel targeted due to your gender, orientation, or other protected trait
You feel unsafe
Under Canadian labor laws, only the victim can define sexual harassment. It doesn’t matter if the perpetrators try to pass off their actions as a joke. If you did not welcome or invite the behavior, it is classified as harassment.
Am I Being Sexually Harassed If I Witness Harassment Happening to Someone Else?
Yes. Behaviors that can be considered workplace sexual harassment create a hostile environment for all workers who witness it. You do not have to be the target of the harassment to feel diminished, uncomfortable, or unsafe.
Workplace Sexual Harassment Takes a Toll on Victims
Experiencing sexual harassment at work can negatively affect your mental health. It is not unusual for victims to experience depression, anxiety, and chronic stress.
Hostile work environments can also destroy physical health. Toxic workplaces can cause a multitude of health issues, including weight loss or gain, migraines, and high blood pressure. Productivity can also take a significant dip, as workers are more likely to call out or leave the company altogether.