Sexual Harassment: You Know It’s Illegal but Do You Know WHY?

December 17, 2018 7:45 am

Everybody knows that sex harassment is illegal. But not everybody knows why. The question of which law(s) gets broken when sexual harassment occurs isn’t just some arcane matter that only your lawyer should care about; it’s of direct and immediate relevance to HR directors to the extent it has a crucial bearing on:

  • Your organization’s innocence or guilt;
  • Who can sue or prosecute you;
  • Whether your harassment policies are subject to government inspection;
  • The tribunal that hears your case;
  • The potential consequences you face if found guilty of a violation.

The 6 Key Laws

An employer that commits or tolerates sexual harassment directed against its employees faces potential liability under at least 6 different laws.

Editor’s Note: It’s Not Just Sex Harassment

This analysis applies not just to sexual but all forms of workplace harassment. Possible exception: Human rights laws don’t apply unless harassment is based on sex, race, religion, disability or other protected characteristic under the law. Thus, for example, while it could get you into trouble under the other laws, harassing an employee just for being a Maple Leaf fan wouldn’t be a human rights violation.

  1. Human Rights Laws

Sex harassment may be a form of employment discrimination based on gender-, sexual orientation, transgender- and/or family status, depending on who the victim is. Potential consequences:

  • Money damages for lost wages and benefits and pain and suffering;
  • Reinstatement;
  • Orders to cease the discrimination and/or adopt sensitivity training, special programs or other measures to prevent recurrence.
  1. OHS Laws

Sex harassment is a workplace safety violation in the 9 jurisdictions (Federal, Ontario, Alberta, Sask., Manitoba, New Brunswick, PEI, Northwest Territories and Nunavut) where OHS laws specifically require employers to protect workers from workplace harassment. Potential consequences:

  • OHS fines, tickets and administrative monetary penalties;
  • Stop-work and other OHS orders;
  • Harassment fair grounds for OHS inspection and employee OHS complaints.


Read The Other Reasons only on HR Insider