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Sexual harassment [16]

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Sexual harassment in housing and workplaces

“Harassment” in this section means comments or actions based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression that are unwelcome to you or should be known to be unwelcome. They may include humiliating or annoying conduct. Harassment requires a “course of conduct,” which means that a pattern of behaviour or more than one incident is usually required for a claim to be made to the Tribunal. However, a single significant incident may be offensive enough to be considered sexual harassment.

Women and men have the right to be free from sexual and gender-based harassment. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual contact and remarks, leering, inappropriate staring, unwelcome demands for dates, requests for sexual favours, spreading sexual rumours (including on-line) and displays of sexually offensive pictures or graffiti. For example, an employer’s repeated and vulgar sexual comments to an employee could constitute sexual harassment.

The comments or conduct do not have to be sexual in nature. Someone may tease or bother you because of gender-based ideas about how men or women “should” look, dress or behave. If you are a trans person, you are protected from degrading comments, insults or unfair treatment because of your gender identity or gender expression.[17]

Poisoned environment

You might feel that your workplace is hostile or unwelcoming to you because of insulting or degrading comments or actions that have been made about you or others based on the ground of sex. When comments or conduct of this kind have an influence on others and how they are treated, this is known as a “poisoned environment.” A poisoned environment cannot, however, be based only on your personal views. You must have facts to show that an objective person would see the comments or conduct resulting in unequal or unfair terms and conditions.

Sexual solicitation

You have the right to be free from unwelcome advances or requests for sexual favours made by a boss, supervisor or other person in a position of authority.

Example: A supervisor makes unwanted sexual advances to an employee. In this situation, it may be implied, directly or indirectly, that a promotion is at risk of being denied if the person does not agree to accept the advances.

If the supervisor punishes the person because he or she rejected the advance, this is called a “reprisal”. This kind of “getting even” is not allowed under the Code.

Example: A female employee is fired or demoted because she refused a “sexual proposition” from her manager.

Harassment and your safety

If you are being harassed at work and have concerns about your safety, alert someone you believe can help you. This could be your employer, police, local community agencies and/or women’s shelters. You can also contact your local Ministry of Labour office to report incidents of workplace harassment or violence.[18]

[16] For more detailed information, see the OHRC’s Policy on preventing sexual and gender-based harassment (2011).

[17] For more information, see the OHRC’s Policy on discrimination and harassment because of gender identity (2000). Note that in 2012, “gender identity” and “gender expression” were added as grounds of discrimination in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the OHRC is currently updating this policy.

[18] See


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