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    Sexual harassment

    Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination based on sex. It happens everywhere: at work, at school, in housing and in public places (streets, public transit, swimming pools, parks). It also occurs online (e-mail, social media, etc.)

    Sexual harassment is a violation of human rights, including basic rights such as: the right to safeguard dignity, the right to privacy as well as the right to integrity. All these rights are protected in Québec by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

    • How to recognize it ?

      Sexual harassment is an abuse of power by one individual (harasser) against another (victim).

      Sexual harassment is :

      • a behaviour(words, actions or gestures) of a sexual nature
        • unwanted : causing discomfort or fear
        • repeated (asingle, serious act can also be sexual harassment)
      • which undermines the dignity and the physical or psychological integrity of the victim
        For example :
        • Absence from work, needing to quit one's job, denial of a promotion
        • Skipping classes, failing classes or stopping studies
        • Developing a physical or mental health problem - psychological trauma, such as: loss of self-esteem, feelings of guilt, stress…

      Sexual harassment can be :

      • Non-verbal
        • Looks, whistles, posting pornographic material, e-mails, text messages
      • Verbal
        • Sexist jokes, comments on physical appearance, questions about someone’s private life, threats, unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favours
      • Physical
        • Rubbing, touching, sexual gestures

      What is the difference between sexual harassment and…?

      Sexist harassment

      Like sexual harassment, sexist harassment is based on prejudices and sexist stereotypes. However, sexist comments or acts are not of a sexual nature but based on gendered roles and attitudes assigned to men and women.

      Sexist harassment is a conduct that shows up in repeated words, gestures, or behaviours that are vexatious or contemptuous of someone because of their sex. These acts refer to traits alleged to be uniquely feminine (or masculine), for example: women’s intellectual inferiority, women’s strong emotions, men’s insensitivity, etc.

      Examples : rude language, dirty jokes, insults, graffiti, etc.

      Sexual assault

      Unlike sexual assault, sexual harassment is not a criminal offense.

      A sexual assault is an act of a sexual nature, whether or not it involves physical contact, carried out by an individual without the consent of the person to whom it is addressed or, in some cases, notably those involving children, by manipulation of feelings or blackmail.

      It’s an act that aims to impose the assailant’s own desires on another person through the abuse of power, through the use of force or constraint, or through implied or explicit threats. Sexual assault interferes with fundamental rights, notably the right to bodily security and inviolability, and to physical and psychological security.

      Examples : Touching, incest, sexual exploitation, child pornography, exhibitionism, voyeurism.

      Source : Information Guide for Sexual Assault Victims

      Psychological harassment

      Psychological harassment can take many forms, including sexual harassment.

      Psychological harassment means any vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures, that affects an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that results in a harmful work environment for the employee.

      A single serious incidence of such behaviour that has a lasting harmful effect on an employee may also constitute psychological harassment.

      Examples : Offensive remarks, bullying, rumours, humiliation, disparagement.

      Source : Act respecting labour standards, RLRQ, c. N-1. 1, art. 81.18

      Sexual harassment: prohibited by law

      In Québec, two laws prohibit sexual harassment :

      The Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms

      Section 10.1 of the Charter prohibits discriminatory harassment which includes sexual harassment. Sexual harassment also contravenes sections 4, 10, and 46 of the Charter, as well as sections 1, 5 and 6 which protect fundamental rights.

      Learn more about the Charter

      No one may harass a person on the basis of any ground mentioned in Section 10

      Namely: race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap.

      Sections 10 and 10.1 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms

      The Act respecting labour standards

      Sexual harassment is recognized by the courts as a form of psychological harassment.

      Note that these laws protect victims, including both women and men. The victim may be of the same sex as the harasser.

    • Preventing sexual harassment

      Who can stand up to sexual harassment?

      Anyone who witnesses a situation of sexual harassment can take action to prevent harassment, whether in a position of authority or not.

      • in the workplace: managers, union members, colleagues
      • in academic institutions: school principals, teachers, etc.
      • in housing: landlords, witnesses

      How can sexual harassment be prevented?

      Here are some examples of measures for preventing or addressing sexual harassment when it occurs.

      In an establishment (business, school, college, university, organization), a building, a union or an organization (e.g. board of directors)

      • set up internal policies to fight discrimination and sexual harassment
      • set up a mechanism for filing complaints and handling sexual harassment claims
      • make people in positions of authority (managers, faculty, etc.) aware of policies and mechanisms, in addition to informing staff members, students, etc.
      • maintain an environment that does not tolerate any form of discrimination or sexual harassment on any basis, including gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression
      • raise awareness, inform, train. For example, organize training sessions on sexual harassment and, more broadly, on discriminatory harassment, sexism and sexist stereotypes, and on rights protected by Québec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms
    • Dealing with sexual harassment

      Psychological support and assistance

      You can ask for help from various organizations to cope with the aftermath of sexual harassment and to support you in legal proceedings.

      Legal recourse: file a complaint

      You can have access to various remedies to stop sexual harassment and get compensation. Depending on the place where you have been a victim of sexual harassment, you can contact the following organizations:

      If you have been the target of sexual harassment in the context of your work, the legal remedies available to you vary, depending on :

      • your job category: management, unionized or not
      • the harasser’s job category: a superior or a colleague, supplier, sub-contractor
      • the desired remedial measures

      You can contact:

      The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse

      The Commmission hears complaints because sexual harassment is a form of discriminatory harassment.

      Call us to explain your case and learn if you can file a complaint:

      Toll-free line: 1 800 361-6477
      E-mail: information@cdpdj.qc.ca
      www.cdpdj.qc.ca

      The Commission des normes, de l'équité et de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST)

      This body hears complaints when sexual harassment :

      • constitutes psychological harassment at work :
        Any paid employee at any level of an organization who experiences harassment may file a complaint against their employer within 90 days of the last occurrence of harassment.
      • causes an occupational injury (work accident) :

        If the victim is on a leave of absence due to depression resulting from sexual harassment by a colleague, it is possible to make a claim.

      Toll-free line: 1 844 838-0808
      Online: www.cnesst.gouv.qc.ca/nous-joindre/Pages/nous-joindre.aspx
      www.cnesst.gouv.qc.ca 

      Your union

      If you work in a unionized environment, you should file a grievance with your union. The grievance arbitrator will review and apply the collective agreement.

      The Commission de la fonction publique

      If you are employed by the Quebec government, you should send your complaint to the Public Service Commission.

      Toll-free line: 1 800 432-0432
      E-mail: cfp@cfp.gouv.qc.ca
      www.cfp.gouv.qc.ca  

      The Canadian Human Rights Commission

      If you are employed by a company under federal jurisdiction (public service, banks, telecommunications companies, transport services, air, rail or marine).

      Toll-free line : 1 888 214-1090
      Online: www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/fra/content/contactez-nous
      http://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng

      A lawyer to appeal to the court of Québec or the Québec superior court

      In some cases it may be possible to sue the person who sexually harassed you in a civil procedure in order to get financial compensation for the damage you suffered.

      Strategies to adopt when you think you are being sexually harassed at work:

      • Show your non-consent to the presumed harasser;
      • Speak to your colleagues or to a trustworthy person;
      • Write a journal of events (places, dates, times, facts and gestures, witnesses);
      • Contact a support group.

      Source : Groupe d’aide et d’information sur le harcèlement sexuel au travail de la province de Québec inc. (GAIHST)

    • Employer's obligations

      An employer has a legal obligation to guarantee an environment free of sexual harassment for all employees. These legal obligations are set out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter) and the Act respecting labour standards.

      In fact, the employer is obliged to :

      • Provide a work environment free from discrimination and harassment (Sect. 10 and 10.1 of the Charter)
      • Provide fair and reasonable working conditions (Sect. 46 of the Charter)
      • Provide a workplace free from psychological harassment (Sect. 81.19 of the Act respecting labour standards)
      • In order to prevent sexual harassment and discriminatory harassment in general

      the employer must agree to :

      • Reject any form of harassment, be it sexual, racial or based on any other type of unlawful discrimination.
      • Protect any staff member experiencing discriminatory harassment, using internal mechanisms for assistance and remedy.
      • Protect all staff members from discriminatory harassment that is perpetrated by outsiders in the course of work.

      When informed of a sexual harassment situation, the employer is :

      • Required to put an end to this behaviour
      • Held responsible for the actions of their staff

      While handling and resolving a sexual harassment case, the employer :

      • Must not reveal the names of people involved in the harassment situation unless this information is needed to carry out the investigation or to apply disciplinary measures.
      • Must ensure that the victim of harassment does not suffer prejudice or reprisals in any way while the problem or conflict is being handled and resolved.

      To find out more about employers’ obligations, see the tools provided by the Commission to prevent harassment in the workplace.

    • Tools and resources

      Tools offered by the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse

      The Commission has several tools to combat gender stereotypes and to understand and prevent harassment in the workplace.

      Webinar

      Understanding harassment in the workplace to better prevent it (in French only)

      This webinar addresses issues related to discriminatory harassment and sexual harassment; the legal obligations of employers and the basics to set up and implement a workplace harassment prevention policy; and the remedies set out by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

      Training session

      Discriminatory harassment: nobody deserves this! (In french only)

      This session addresses the notion of discriminatory harassment, its features and its negative impacts on the rights of everyone involved.

      Graphic

      Dealing with sexual harassment: your role as an employer

      This infographic presents the role of the employer in dealing with sexual harassment.

      Documents

      A Policy against discriminatory harassment in the workplace

      This document provides business managers as well as union officials with the elements of a standard policy, its main components and prerequisites for effective implementation.

      Document to better understand sexual harassment and the Commission’s role (In French only)

      This document presents the Commission's recommendations for preventing sexual harassment and facilitating access to justice for victims. These were issued as part of the consultation on the report on the implementation of the government action plan on sexual assault.

      Other sites and documents of interest

      Sites (In french only)

      Documents (In french only)