What is Workplace Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is any inappropriate behaviour based on sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or gender expression that occurs at work.

Sexual harassment can include:

  • Sexual solicitation and advances (asking for sex in exchange for a promotion)
  • A poisoned environment (sexualized images in the workplace)
  • Gender-based harassment (targeting someone for not following sex/gender-role stereotypes)
  • Violence (if inappropriate sexual behaviour is not dealt with, it may move
    to more serious forms, including sexual assault and other violence)

Sexual harassment can be verbal, visual and/or physical. Sexual harassment can happen to anyone and can include serious and less serious behaviours that can escalate over time.

Workers, job applicants, volunteers and interns are protected against sexual harassment under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Where can workplace sexual harassment happen?

Sexual harassment is prohibited in any workplace in Ontario. The workplace is not just an office in a building. It can include:

  • Applying and interviewing for a job
  • Training sessions/seminars
  • Work events and meetings (including after hours)
  • Conferences
  • Work-related travel
  • Alternate worksites
  • Virtual workspaces

Who commits Workplace Sexual Harassment?

Sexual Harassment is illegal if committed by anyone in your workplace, including:

  • Clients/customers/patients
  • Coworkers
  • Supervisors/managers
  • Employers
  • Contractors/delivery people
  • Visitors, including family and friends
  • Volunteers,
  • Board members

Examples of Workplace Sexual Harassment


  • Jokes, remarks, teasing
  • Not taking NO for an answer
  • Comments about clothing, body or behaviour
  • Sexual emails, notes or letters
  • Asking questions about someone’s sex life, sexual orientation or preferences
  • Unwelcome sexual advances


  • Staring or leering
  • Displaying sexualized images/content
  • Sending sexual images or videos
  • Sharing someone’s sexual pictures or images without consent
  • Exposing private parts
  • Using intimidating gestures


  • Blocking movement
  • Kissing or hugging
  • Deliberate contact
  • Inappropriate touching or grabbing
  • Sexual assault


Sexual harassment can also include discrimination based on sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Examples of gender-based harassment can include:

  • Reinforcing traditional sex-role stereotypes (ie, masculine dominance and female subservience)
  • Insulting, mistreating, ignoring or excluding someone because of gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity
  • Comments that people are either not good at a particular job or should be prevented from having a particular job because they are a man or woman

If you think you have experienced workplace sexual harassment or know someone who has, you can contact your local community legal centre to learn more about your options. We provide:

  • Free legal advice
  • Training
  • Resource Centre
  • Referrals to other services

Sexual harassment at work is underreported

Many workers do not report sexual harassment because of lack of information, anxiety, lack of trust and concerns about confidentiality in the reporting process.

  • 32% of women and 26% of men reported not having received any training/information about how to report sexual harassment and sexual assault
  • 34% of women and 35% of men reported not having been instructed on how to access resources to deal with these situations

We Can Help

If you have been harassed then you should reach out to your local community legal centre to learn more about your options. We provide:

  • Free legal advice
  • Training
  • Resource Centre
  • Referrals to other services

This website is for general information purposes only.  Please contact your local legal clinic for advice about your situation

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