Say No: What you can do to prevent workplace harassment

Submitted by: Susanna Chu


A contractor gropes the new kid at a job site. The manager at a dealership repeatedly pressures a sales rep for a date. The warehouse guy yells and rages out of control. Have you heard similar stories at your workplace? A 2017 Employment and Social Development Canada survey indicated that 60 per cent of Canadians experience workplace harassment and 30 per cent experience sexual harassment. Similarly, 1 in 5 Americans report experiencing sexual harassment at work. The figure for women goes up to 1 in 3.

So what can you do to prevent workplace harassment? At an organizational level, there are legal and business guidelines to follow for

  • Raising awareness and promoting education
  • Monitoring morale and workplace culture
  • Encouraging open communication
  • Implementing a formal harassment policy and procedure for reporting, investigating and resolving incidents
  • Providing coaching, training and mediation services to address inappropriate behaviours and resolve conflicts

At a personal level, it helps to first understand what is or is not harassment. The Government of Canada has developed this tool to help you. 

Some tips for managers:

  • Take reports seriously
  • Actively support an investigation, if any
  • Prevent retaliation
  • Report any incidents to your HR or legal team
  • Review your harassment policies regularly with your team
  • Remember what you may consider harmless may be offensive to someone else
  • Lead by example

And for employees:

  • Know your employer’s anti-harassment policy.
  • Don’t encourage suggestive or discriminatory jokes, behaviours, messages etc.
  • Don’t accuse co-workers of being too sensitive to situations you may consider harmless.
  • If you feel uncomfortable or afraid at work, try to determine why and share your thoughts with a manager you trust.
  • If you observe a co-worker being threatened, bullied or harassed, ask the person to stop, if you feel comfortable. If not, stand nearby, check in with your co-worker afterward and offer your support.

If you feel you are being harassed at work and feel comfortable doing so, ask the person to stop. If you are uncomfortable or the behaviour continues: 

  • Write down what happened: who was there, what happened, the date and time etc.
  • Check whether your workplace has an anti-harassment policy and follow the steps set out there
  • Talk to a lawyer. In Canada, occupational health and safety legislation prevents employers from punishing you for complaining about health and safety issues. The rules surrounding harassment are less clear. Consult a lawyer to confirm whether you have been harassed and what your rights are before you file a complaint.
  • Talk to your employer. In the U.S., the law protects you from retaliation for making a complaint.
  • In the US, you may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. In Canada, you may have recourse to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, provincial tribunals and/or provincial ministries of labour.
  • If you are forced to leave your job due to harassment, you may be able to pursue legal action for constructive dismissal.


Sources and additional resources:

1 in 3 women has been sexually harassed at work, according to survey. Huffington Post Canada.

60% of Canadians report experiencing workplace harassment: survey. Benefits Canada.

Harassment and sexual violence in the workplace. Employment and Social Development Canada.

One-fifth of American adults have been sexually harassed at work, CNBC survey says. CNBC.

Preventing and resolving harassment in the workplace: A guide for managers. Government of Canada.

Prevention of sexual harassment. University of Minnesota Human Rights Library.

Share of Americans who have been victims of sexual harassment as of 2017, by gender. Statista.

Tips for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. Benefits Canada.

What can I do if I am being harassed at work? Steps to Justice (Ontario).

What to do if you believe you have been harassed at work. US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 


Note: This blog discusses general safety and security topics. It is not intended to provide comprehensive advice or guidance. In all matters of personal safety and security, We encourage readers to research topics in depth and consult a security professional about specific concerns..


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