by Angela Leung and Jennifer Khor
It has been two years since SHARP Workplaces Legal Advice Clinic opened its doors to clients, just one day before the pandemic began. The Clinic, operated by Community Legal Assistance Society, offers free legal advice to anyone who has experienced workplace sexual harassment in BC.
With the pandemic, and remote work, there was speculation there might be less need for our service. Unfortunately, studies show that this is not the case, and in some situations, harassment has increased. Virtual interactions tend to embolden people and remote working creates opportunity for more private communications. Also, people going into their workplaces still experienced sexual harassment. Reduced capacity at workplaces created situations that put some people more at risk. A 2021 survey found that four in 10 Canadians, 50 per cent of women and 33 per cent men, experienced some form of harassment at work. While sexual harassment commonly occurs, it can be difficult to seek assistance. Our Intake Coordinator Angela shares these reflections:
No one wants to be harassed and nobody wants to need legal advice.
No one wants to experience sexual harassment in the workplace. Nobody wants to need legal advice. Most people won’t seek legal help after “just” one or two incidents of sexual harassment. By the time someone decides to call SHARP Workplaces, they’ve often already experienced a great deal of trauma. It takes a lot of courage to make the initial call.
Everyone needs to be heard and believed.
Our clients may have tried to speak with coworkers, human resources, management, family, or friends, but instead of receiving support, they were told that this is just the way it is. Or that they are being too sensitive. Sometimes our call is the first time a client has felt heard or believed. It’s important for everybody to know that sexual harassment is not a part of any job. Everybody is entitled to a safe and harassment-free workplace.
There are always options.
There are legal options as well as workplace options for addressing workplace sexual harassment. Our lawyers provide clients with the pros and cons of all their options so that they can make informed decisions about what’s best for them. Sometimes the best option for them is to do nothing. That’s okay. We are here to support whatever choice they make for themselves.
If you or someone you know is experiencing workplace sexual harassment, contact us at SHARPWorkplaces@clasbc.net or call 604-673-3143 or toll-free: 1-888-685-6222, to find out how we can help. SHARP Workplaces also provides free training and resources to prevent and respond to sexual harassment through our partnership with Ending Violence Association of BC.