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Sticky Situation: Reporting Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

I enjoy my new work, but I am in a shop environment with all male coworkers. I hear phrases that I would be embarrassed to repeat and am questioned about my sexual preferences. I see offensive videos, pictures and pornographic magazines passed around the table during breaks and lunch periods. I am not sure what to do.
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Sticky Situation:

I recently started a new job, three weeks ago to be exact. I made a career change in hopes of reducing my workload and stress, however it's been no walk in the park. Although I enjoy my new work, I am in a shop environment with all male coworkers.

Historically, a man has held my job. I am the first female presence in this shop. Because of this and due to my previous experience working within a predominantly male environment, I had expected some typical male behavior. However, this environment seems to be crossing the line.

Even though I have repeatedly asked not to be involved, referred to in any way, or included in any conversation that could be offensive to women, they insist. I hear phrases that I would be embarrassed to repeat and am questioned about my sexual preferences. I see offensive videos, pictures and pornographic magazines passed around the table during breaks and lunch periods.

These things have been brought to the attention of management and nothing has been done. I have also spoken with other women in the company and their advice was to just ignore it, laugh or pretend it doesn't bother me.

I cannot be that person. I am shocked that anyone accepts this type of behavior at all, but I am not sure what to do.



Thank you for your confidence.

With your arrival in the shop, the work environment is no longer all male. Your uneasiness and feelings, that this may have crossed the line into a non-professional and sexually harassing environment, are valid.

You have been exposed to unwelcome comments, pictures and videos that are offensive to women. Whether severe or pervasive, they apply to sexual harassment claims.

According to our courts, all Canadian workplaces should be free of words and gestures that jeopardize an employee's right to fairness, tolerance, freedom and security.

Sexual harassment is considered when an employee feels discriminated against, is intimidated or is simply uncomfortable with the language or actions geared to him/her or that he/she has been a witness to.

These emotionally loaded sticky situations that involve sex and power are challenging for new recruits and seasoned professionals alike. The potential losses of employment, being overlooked for an employment opportunity or an upcoming promotion, loss of productivity and physical ailments, are all real.

As with most work sticky situations, my first solution is to follow the employer's internal policy, procedures and/or conflict resolution guidelines.

At this stage, without having all of the details, including whether or not your employer has guidelines, from my perspective, it appears that you have done the right things, in the right order.

1. Firmly state your disapproval.

That is what you first did and repeatedly.

For the benefit of the readers that may be in a similar situation, here are some pointers:

∗ Make direct eye contact.

∗ Give a precise description of what is inappropriate and making you uncomfortable.

∗ If the person repeats the words or actions, be firm that this is not acceptable.

∗ Inform the person that if he/she does it again, you will report them.

2. Speak to your superior and/or union representative.

You already did this with your management, without apparent changes. If you are part of a union, follow the grievance procedure to seek accompaniment from your representative.

3. Seek support from peers.

You did this too. Like you, I am surprised that the other women that you shared your discomfort with accept this behaviour. Maybe they are afraid to lose their job, or, of repercussions from your employer?

You have already completed these three steps, and no change has been made towards a comfortable work environment. You have communicated internally, within your company. The next step involves seeking authoritative support, including outside of your company.

4. Filing an official complaint.

Now that you have denounced your uneasiness to the employees, brought management's attention to these behaviours, it is time to inquire about your rights. Your shop is no longer all male and you have the right to feel comfortable at work, at all times.

If you have not have already done so, make sure to document the scene with a clear record of the events.

∗ Do so as quickly as possible, before your memory plays tricks on you.

∗ Your evidence should include dates, times and persons present.

∗ Add as many details as possible.

∗ Make copies of all documents and keep one at home.

∗ You may even share this information with a confidant.

∗ Once you have done this, you are ready to file your complaint.

5. The last option is looking for other employment opportunities and ultimately leaving your position, for a more respectful workplace.

Sometimes, rarely I hope, this is the best option for the employee's health, safety, career and general well-being.

Best of luck and courage to you.