In a 2014 poll, 43 per cent of women said that they were sexually harassed at work Women are twice as likely as men to experience unwanted sexual contact while at work

Workplace sexual violence is a crime and a serious health and safety issue

Workplace sexual violence is illegal.  It is a human rights violation and a violation of one’s legal right to a safe work environment. Human rights law prohibits discrimination based on sex, gender, sexual orientation and other grounds. Depending on where you work and the form of sexual violence in the workplace, a range of other laws, rules and policies may apply:

  • Criminal law
  • Human rights law
  • The Canada Labour Code
  • Occupational health and safety laws
  • Employment standards legislation
  • Labour relations laws
  • The collective agreement
  • Workplace policies
  • Sector-specific regulations
  • Workers’ compensation law

Sexual violence can have significant mental, emotional, spiritual and physical impacts on survivors. 

People may face:

  • Loss of security and sense of control
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Anger
  • Loss of relationships and community
  • Physical injuries
  • Sexual and reproductive health concerns, such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections
  • Loss of economic resources, including job loss
  • Substance use as a way of coping
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviour[i] 

Sexual violence has consequences in the workplace and for the union. It can create a poisoned, hostile workplace where workers feel unsafe and silenced. [ii]  It can divide workers and weaken the union. When a workplace is poisoned, it is the employer’s responsibility to “[…] set the tone for the workplace and to clearly communicate that a sexualised workplace and discriminatory and harassing behaviour are inappropriate and unacceptable.”[iii]


[i] METRAC, Presentation to CUPE’s National Post-Secondary Task Force, 2018.

ii Crete v. Aqua-Drain Sewer Services Inc., 2017 HRTO 354 (CanLII) at para. 54.

[iii] A poisoned work environment occurs where the work environment has become toxic because of pervasive discrimination or harassment on a prohibited ground and becomes a part of a person’s workplace, becoming a de facto condition of their employment; it can result from a single, egregious incident, or ongoing inappropriate behaviour that has gone uncorrected by management (Crete v. Aqua-Drain Sewer Services Inc., 2017 HRTO 354 (CanLII) at paras. 49-55)