Dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace

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sexualharassment
"If I could go back in time, I would have never stuck it out the entire summer... I had mornings waking up absolutely dreading the day and just wanting to quit on the spot."

Dark room. Older man. Insistent behaviour. Human resource managers. These are a few of the things we must deal with when we encounter sexual harassment in the workplace – at least, that’s what I dealt with.

Sexual harassment is an issue which has been plaguing the workplace for years, but it wasn’t until it happened in my own life that I become more aware of the affects on an individual’s personal and professional life.

What happened to me

During the summer before I took off to university, a friend got me a job doing “housekeeping” work for a construction company. All the workers were men, but this did not bother me since I would be working side by side with my friend – a man.

We worked with a man about 20 years older than us – let’s call him Dave. Dave would purposely send my friend to work on the other side of the job site so he could talk to me. Our chats started off pretty harmless and then it got personal – such as, “Do you have a boyfriend?” To which, of course, I answered yes, although it was a lie.

Dave managed to get a hold of my phone number and would leave message after message on my machine. When I would ignore him he would confront me at work. He started to really creep me out so my friend’s dad, the site project manager, talked to Dave and told him students are off limits.

Escalation

Things were fine and we worked apart until my friend and his dad took off to Italy for two weeks in which I worked with Dave alone. The peak of the harassment happened one day when Dave told me we had to do work in one of the upstairs rooms which happened to have no windows or constructive lighting.

He started touching me and grabbing me, trying to get me to kiss him. I pushed him away and he continued to ask why I wasn’t going on dates with him. This situation made it extremely difficult to continue going to work. I approached managers but nothing was done. The phone calls continued and so did the harassment.

When my friend and his dad returned from their trip I knew I had to do something – report it. I felt extremely intimidated by the situation, so this act of confidence did not happen until the end of the summer. I then had to speak with human resource people and file a report which eventually led to Dave’s dismissal.

You have rights

Sexual harassment is a human rights issue and can include anything from sexual remarks to sexual advances. The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits all acts of sexual harassment in the workplace as well as other institutions such as housing, hotels and in unions. (All other provinces should have similar laws.) Dealing with sexual harassment is not an easy task and one should not stay quiet about it.

If I could go back in time, I would have never stuck it out the entire summer – it made for some tough, uncomfortable work days. I had mornings waking up absolutely dreading the day and just wanting to quit on the spot. One should never feel discouraged from doing what they want to do. Sexual harassment should not have to affect an individual to the point they feel scared or embarrassed.

Whether the individual making the advances is your fellow employee or CEO of the company, this kind of behaviour is not acceptable and can be reported to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. No person, male or female, deserves to go through their workday feeling uncomfortable and violated– I know I didn’t.

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