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Making a Workplace Harassment Complaint

If you have been sexually harassed there are a number of ways that it can be addressed depending on your workplace's harassment prevention policy, your wishes and the situation. You also have protections if the harasser or others are trying to get back at you for making a complaint.

If making a workplace complaint is simply not appropriate in your situation you can request the assistance from Occupational Health and Safety.

The process for making a complaint must be clearly set out in your workplace Harassment Prevention Policy. The policy itself must be readily accessible for workers and include information about the complaint process, including who to make a complaint to.

Generally speaking, complaints are made to your direct supervisor or manager or, in the event that your supervisor or manager is the subject of your complaint, any other supervisor or manager.

In federally regulated workplaces employees go to their supervisor or the person designated in their workplace's Harassment and Violence Prevention Policy. Any Individual designated to receive complaints in a federally regulated workplace must be adequately trained about…

  • your workplace harassment and violence prevention policy
  • the relationship between workplace harassment and violence and the prohibited grounds of discrimination set out in the Canadian Human Rights Act
  • how to recognize, minimize, prevent and respond to workplace harassment and violence

Responsible Employers

Responsible employers have a keen interest in providing employees with a safe and healthy working environment, not only from a risk management perspective, but also because when left unchecked, poisoned workplace environments can have a detrimental impact upon employee morale, productivity, disability and benefit costs, loyalty, retention and turnover rates, as well as corporate reputation. ~Workplace Investigations: A Management Perspective (CBA 2011 National Administrative Law, Labour & Employment Conference)

Third-Party Harassers

It is important to remember that workplace sexual harassment includes harassment by more than just co-workers or employers – customers, clients, patients, contractors and others could be responsible for workplace harassment. It is also important to remember that harassment can take place outside of your workplace, such as at sanctioned work and social events, construction sites or field work, and through communications away from work with employers, co-workers, clients or customers.

Employers may have limited ability to investigate the conduct of third parties or to control inappropriate behaviour. However, employers in both provincially and federally regulated workplaces are required to take reasonable steps to prevent their employees from being harassed regardless of who is responsible for the harassment. Your Harassment Prevention Policy may outline the obligations of your employer regarding third-party harassment. It may state that the employer must do things like post the harassment policy where it can be seen by third parties and authorize an employee to refuse service and ask the harasser to leave the workplace.

Types of Complaints

Workplace harassment prevention polices can provide for both formal and informal complaints. They may also provide an opportunity for workers to simply request information or advice from a supervisor or other designated individual. This can help ensure that the worker is aware of their rights and understands the options available to them.

It is up to you to decide whether to make a formal or informal complaint. You do not have to start with an informal complaint. In some cases, you may be encouraged to file a formal complaint. This might happen when the matter is serious enough to pose a threat to the health and safety of you or other workers, or where the matter appears to be criminal in nature. You may also be asked to consider making a formal complaint if the supervisor feels that informal responses are not likely to prevent harassment from happening again.

Not sure about what options are open to you in your situation or trying to decide on a course of action? Anyone who has experienced workplace sexual harassment is entitled to up to 4 hours of free legal advice. Requesting an appointment is easy and any information you provide will be held in confidence.

Sample Formal Complaint Form

Looking at a sample formal complaint form can help people understand what is involved on the process.

Reprisals & Retaliation

Workers who make a harassment complaint are protected from reprisals or retaliation whether from the alleged harasser, others or the employer.

Informal Complaints

If you have experienced sexual harassment at work you can decide to make an informal complaint. Your workplace Harassment Prevention Policy should outline your options and the steps that can be taken when there is an informal complaint.

Formal Complaints

Workers are entitled to make formal complaints about workplace sexual harassment. A formal complaint requires an investigation and a finding about whether workplace sexual harassment occurred.

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This site provides general information about workplace sexual harassment only. It is not a substitute for receiving legal advice about your situation. Apply now to receive 4 hours of free legal advice.

The Shift Project is funded by the Department of Justice and delivered by the Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan (PLEA).

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