Unintentional But Unacceptable Actions Constitute Harassment

Written by on June 26, 2023 in Employment Law Blog, Employment Law Issues
Unintentional Sexual Harassment

Employment lawyers in Ontario often come across cases of workplace sexual harassment where the perpetrator may not have realized that their actions constituted harassment. While some cases of sexual harassment are intentional and malicious, there are instances where individuals may unknowingly engage in behaviours that are considered harassment under the law.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious issue that can have detrimental effects on the victim, the work environment, and the company as a whole. Therefore, it is crucial for employers and employees to be aware of what constitutes sexual harassment and take steps to prevent it, even if it may not be intentional.

Unintentional Harassment

One common example is when an employee engages in behaviour that they perceive as friendly or flirtatious, but it is unwelcome and uncomfortable for the recipient. This can include making comments about appearance, making suggestive gestures, or repeatedly asking for dates or personal information after being told “no.” While the intent may be harmless, the impact on the victim can be distressing and create a hostile work environment.

Another example is when employees engage in inappropriate jokes or conversations of a sexual nature without realizing that they can be offensive to others. Even if the behaviour is not directed at a specific individual, it can still create a toxic work environment and contribute to a culture of harassment.

Further, workplace sexual harassment may seem unintentional when an employee uses language or makes comments that they may not realize are offensive or derogatory based on the victim’s gender, sexual orientation, race, or other protected characteristics. For instance, making comments about someone’s physical attributes, making derogatory jokes about a particular gender or group, or using offensive language that creates a hostile or uncomfortable environment for others can constitute harassment, even if the intent was not malicious.

It’s important for employees to be aware of the impact of their words and actions on others and to be mindful of the language and behaviour they use in the workplace. Employers should also provide regular training on diversity, equity, and inclusion to ensure that all employees understand and adhere to respectful workplace practices and take appropriate action when incidents of unintentional harassment are reported. This includes educating employees on the different forms of harassment, such as verbal, physical, and visual, and the importance of maintaining a respectful and professional work environment at all times.

Employers should also establish clear policies and procedures for reporting and addressing incidents of sexual harassment, including providing multiple channels for reporting, ensuring confidentiality, and taking prompt and effective action to investigate and address complaints.

Employees who experience or witness incidents of workplace sexual harassment should feel empowered to speak up and report the behaviour. Employers must take all complaints seriously and take appropriate action to prevent further occurrences and protect the victim.

In conclusion, workplace sexual harassment, even if unintentional, is unacceptable and has no place in any work environment. Employers and employees alike must be vigilant in recognizing and addressing any behaviours that may contribute to a culture of harassment.

Contact Minken Employment Lawyers Today

If you have questions or concerns about workplace sexual harassment, our experienced employment law team at Minken Employment Lawyers is here to help. Contact us at: 905-477-7011 | Toll-Free: 1-866-477-7011 | contact@minken.com.

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Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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