The Yukon Legal Services Society has released the following backgrounder on its new workplace sexual harassment legal clinic. The Yukon Human Rights Commission eagerly anticipates working in partnership with the Yukon Legal Services Society towards eradicating workplace sexual harassment in Yukon.
The Yukon Legal Services Society, funded by Justice Canada, has opened a new Clinic providing free and confidential legal advice and information related to workplace sexual harassment (WSH).
The Clinic, staffed by a senior lawyer, can provide legal advice up to the point of litigation to those who believe they may have been sexually harassed in the workplace or may have witnessed harassment. It can also provide more general legal advice, information and resources relating to the law to those who wish to ensure that their workplace is a sexual harassment free zone.
The Workplace Sexual Harassment Clinic is also available to provide general legal education on the issue and anticipates providing materials and making presentations to the public. We welcome the opportunity to partner with other organizations with similar mandates in providing public legal education and information.
Sexual harassment refers to a pattern – and in some severe cases, a single incident – of offensive or unwelcome behaviour which relates to an aspect of the victim’s sex, gender identity or gender expression. The more serious an action and its impact on a victim, the fewer events are required to constitute harassment. The perpetrator’s intent is not important if the behaviour is something that they knew or should have known would be unwelcome. Workplace sexual harassment is not a display of sexual attraction but, like other forms of discrimination, an exercise in unequal power relations. While sexual harassment may take place in any type of workplace, some types of workplaces, because of their structure, may be particularly prone to incidents of workplace sexual harassment.
Studies indicate that in some workplaces and industries in Canada, upward of 20% women employees state that they have been sexually harassed although a much lower percentage officially report harassment. But sexual harassment is not limited to one sex or gender identity or expression. And its negative impact is felt by others, including bystanders who witness it.
While most people recognize that a physical advance or a sexual invitation constitute sexual harassment, the term actually encompasses a much wider scope of behaviour including but not limited to:
- Using sexually charged language, including making jokes, about sex, gender identity or presentation or sexual roles or stereotypes
- Making comments about a person’s body or appearance
- Staring or “leering” at a person’s body
- Misgendering a person or refusing to use their chosen pronouns
- Sexual pictures or visuals being displayed where the complainant can see them
- Spreading rumours about a person related to their sex, gender identity or gender expression.
Much of the actual legal advice the Clinic will provide to clients will probably focus on triage: explaining the law in the area of WSH, helping them to determine whether their concern actually constitutes WSH, helping address circumstances which may pose an immediate physical or legal danger and referring them to local resources. Within the Access to Justice mandate however, there may be additional scope to provide legal advice and services that would support a complainant’s litigation either with their own legal counsel or self-represented.
In respect of the Clinic’s public education and information directive, we anticipate working with partners such as the Yukon Human Rights Commission to prepare materials that can be used and adapted by the public such as draft WSH policies for the workplace, checklists for carrying out a simple investigation of an allegation of WSH, etc.
If you or someone you know is dealing with or is aware of workplace sexual harassment, contact the Workplace Sexual Harassment Clinic for free and confidential legal advice, information or resources. The Clinic is located at #103-2131 2nd Avenue and staff will be available to meet on Mondays, Wednesdays, and on Friday morning, for either in person or remote interviews with clients seeking legal advice on workplace sexual harassment issues. Appointments are made by contacting Lesley McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phoning 867-393-6219. Clinic staff will also be visiting Yukon communities outside of Whitehorse on a monthly basis beginning in December 2021. A schedule of monthly community visits will be posted shortly.