Harassment means "engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcomed". This definition is found in both the Ontario Human Rights Code (with respect to Code-based harassment) and Occupational Health and Safety Act (with respect to Workplace Harassment). Western’s policies adopt this definition and broaden it to include, in the case of personal harassment, any conduct and/or behaviours which create an intimidating, demeaning or hostile working or academic environment.
When assessing whether the behaviour being experienced amounts to harassment, it is helpful to consider the components of the definition. Without fulfilling all requirements, the behaviour, while distressing, is not within the scope of the harassment and discrimination policies at Western. It may be more indicative of an interpersonal conflict. It is important that the behaviour, whether it be harassment or conflict, be addressed.
A course: In almost all cases, harassment is a pattern of behaviour occurring over a period of time which has a negative effect on the target(s) and/or the environment. However, one single incident can constitute harassment when it is demonstrated that it has caused a significant effect on the target and/or the environment.
Vexatious: Means not having sufficient reason and/or seeking only to annoy or irritate.
Comment or Conduct: Behaviours can include conversations, jokes, posters, calendars, name calling, threats, emails, screen savers, etc.
Known or Ought Reasonably to Be Known: Both subjective (i.e., the target feels the behaviour is inappropriate) and objective (i.e., a reasonable third party would feel that the behavior was inappropriate) are considered.
Unwelcomed: This is a key aspect of the definition. The behaviour must be unwelcomed to the target or within the environment. Recent case law has suggested reasonableness to the consideration of whether the is behaviour considered unwelcomed. It is important to note that there is no requirement that a person (i.e., target) expressly object to unwelcomed behaviour. It is recognized that where harassment is present, it may be difficult, perhaps risky, to object to a person’s behaviour, particularly when that person holds power over the target (such as a leader, professor, etc).
Types of Harassment
Code-based Harassment is based on a protected ground: race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability. Code-based harassment is a form of discrimination.
Examples of code-based harassment:
- A student with a disability is refused extra time to complete an examination despite a request for accommodation.
- A series of homophobic posts are placed on a student’s Facebook wall by another classmate.
- A supervisor repeatedly berates his international graduate student by telling him that his previous training, completed in student’s home country, is useless.
Sexual Harassment is a form of code-based harassment on the basis of sex, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation that has the effect of creating a poisoned environment (demeaning, intimidating, hostile). Usually present is a pattern of repeated behaviours such as offensive jokes, comments, display of inappropriate materials, or stereotyping. Sexual harassment may also have a quid pro quo element. Quid pro quo means “this for that” and thus, there may be promises of rewards for complying with sexual solicitations or implied threats or actual effects for not complying with sexual demands. Often present in quid pro quo situations is a power imbalance between the parties involved.
Sexual assault is a form of sexual harassment. Where there is physical harm or threat of the same, Campus Safety and Emergency Services should be contacted immediately (by dialing 911 or ext. 83300 from a campus phone).
Examples of sexual harassment:
- a residence student repeatedly makes unwelcomed comments about a floormate’s appearance
- a professor makes jokes about women’s “unsuitability” for a particular profession
- a staff person repeatedly makes comments and inappropriate remarks about a colleague’s gender transition
- a teaching assistant hints that his student will receive a higher grade if he agrees to a dating relationship.
- a professor gropes a student and says that if she tells anyone, the student will not be believed and will fail the course.
Personal Harassment includes any behaviour which, while not related to a protected ground, results in an intimidating, demeaning or hostile environment. There is a subjective (i.e., target feels harassed by behaviour) and objective (i.e., a reasonable person would feel the behaviour harassing in nature) element. Bullying would be considered a form of personal harassment.
Workplace Harassment is similar to personal harassment. The difference is that workplace harassment relates to a worker(s) and the behaviour takes place in a workplace. There are protections against and procedures for responding to workplace harassment found in Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.
It is rare, but harassment can turn violent. If a threat of physical violence exists, Campus Safety and Emergency Services should be contacted immediately (by dialing 911 or ext. 83300 from a campus phone).
Examples of personal or workplace harassment:
- A staff member repeatedly makes demeaning and derogatory remarks to others that are intended to belittle a colleague.
- A graduate student continues to “prank” another student by tampering with his workstation despite a request that the pranking cease.
- A supervisor demands that an employee do work outside of normal hours that is not part of the ‘normal’ job and is not requested from other employees. No matter the amount of work done, the supervisor only provides negative and unreasonable feedback.
- A classmate repeatedly rolls her eyes, sighs and interrupts another classmate during class discussions.
Harassment can have a significant impact on the working or learning environment and those in it. Targets, in addition to third-party observers, can be affected by the behavior. Some of possible impacts for individuals experiencing harassment are:
- Anxiety, depression, sleep disorders
- Impaired decision-making, difficulty concentrating
- Reduced productivity
- Humiliation, loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, feelings of isolation
- Reduced morale among team members, classmates, colleagues
- Fractions within teams, increase of gossip
- Medical or stress-related leaves of absence