Signs of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment is one of the most underreported yet common workplace situations experienced by both men and women.  At McGuiness Law, we are on a mission to help educate others on the signs of workplace harassment and what to do if you find yourself in this situation.


What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome behaviour that is sexual in nature and affects you negatively. It’s often an abuse of power by one person who tries to directly or indirectly threaten a person’s job security, working conditions, earnings, or promotion opportunities.

The perpetrator could be a manager, a colleague, or a client. It can come in many forms, affecting both men and women.

Sexual harassment is not something that anyone should put up with, and in Canada, it is against the law. Unfortunately, it still exists within the workplace.

A study conducted by the General Social Survey on Canadians at Work and Home (GSS) in 2016 stated that 19% of women and 13% of men reported that they had experienced some form of harassment in the workplace. With the rise of the #MeToo movement, more and more females started to speak out about workplace sexual assault and misconduct.


This movement has given women the permission to come forward and speak out about their sexual assault experience. It’s great to see the conversation on this issue increase; however, it’s revealed how big a problem this still is for Canadians.

Types of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment can be expressed in many ways. Some forms may be very subtle, from a casual comment to a very obvious one, such as touching someone inappropriately.

The Alberta Human Rights Commission states that sexual harassment can include:

  • suggestive remarks, sexual jokes, or compromising invitations;
  • the way someone “looks” at you;
  • verbal abuse, like inappropriate comments or teasing;
  • jokes related to gender;
  • talking about sexual activities;
  • suggestive sexual images;
  • leering or whistling;
  • unwanted physical contact (closeness, patting, rubbing);
  • outright demands for sexual favours; and
  • physical assault.

As we mentioned, sometimes the signs can be subtle, making them difficult to recognize. Feeling uneasy, uncomfortable, embarrassed, or offended are all warning signs and shouldn’t be ignored.

Your employer or institution has the legal responsibility to create a workplace or environment free of sexual harassment and should have policies in place. You should never feel embarrassed or scared to bring up your concerns.

If you are experiencing sexual harassment, here are 5 steps you can take from ALIS Alberta:

  1. If your safety is at risk, call the police.
  2. Document each experience. This includes writing down the date, time, and location where it took place. You will also want to describe the incident, what you did, and record the names of any witnesses.
  3. Tell the harasser to stop either in person or in writing. Make sure to keep a copy of what you wrote.
  4. Report the harassment to your employer. This may be the human resources department, your supervisor, or a colleague you trust. We also suggest that you check to see if your organization has a policy that tells you who to report to. Make sure to document who you reported the incident to, what you said, dates and times, and what the outcome was.
  5. Speak to a lawyer if you do not feel like you are receiving the support you deserve or if the incident continues to occur.

Suppose the harassment continues even after you’ve reported it to your employer. In that case, you have up to a year to make a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission.


Remember, sexual harassment is against the law. As an all-female law firm, we are passionate about helping Albertans stand up for their rights. Contact our team for a free consultation by calling 780-900-7941.