Youth, students and Workplace Sexual Harassment
I was so excited when I got my first real summer job. You know, a job that didn’t involve asking “Are you ready to order?” It was a job that might lead to a career. While I was waiting for my orientation to begin on the first day, I met a client who asked me to help him. I was eager to please, so I did, and then I was asked to work with this client on a regular basis.
The client’s behaviour quickly turned into harassment. It started small, with little notes telling me that I was beautiful. I was uncomfortable, and I spoke to my supervisor about it. She asked me to keep working with him, and she told me that I should keep things strictly work-related. I tried to keep the client focused on work, but then one morning he was waiting for me behind the building where I worked, and another morning I ran into him during my commute to work. Things escalated to the point that he threatened me twice. My employer reassigned me, but the damage was done. I felt unsafe, and I was afraid to go out in public in case I saw him. Near the end of the summer, I finally managed to get a peace bond to keep him away from me.
Looking back now, I feel foolish because I didn’t know that I had rights or how to assert those rights. I was a kid and I didn’t know how to deal with conflict, so I just muddled through as best I could. I wonder what my employer was thinking and why they weren’t better prepared to protect me. Part of me wondered if none of us knew better.
I checked in with some current students and young workers to find out what are things like now in the post #MeToo era. It doesn’t seem like much has changed on the ground since my awful summer. Students are still exposed to sexual harassment and even assault at school, at work and on placement.
The people I spoke to worked in professional offices, the service industry and the trades. They all identified sexual harassment from co-workers and clients as a problem. The harassment happened at work, immediately outside of the work site and at work-related social events.
When one student told her employer about the harassment, she was told that they were “taking care of it”, but the harasser still works there. Another student reported sexual harassment, and the employer did not even investigate the complaint.
There are some important differences between then and now. There is more awareness. I wouldn’t have thought to call my experience workplace sexual harassment. There are also laws in place that require colleges, universities and employers to have policies and practices to prevent and investigate sexual harassment.
Do you hire or supervise students? Join us on Friday, March 31st at noon for a Zoom lunch and learn to find out how to comply with your legal obligations.
Workers and people looking for work are also welcome. You’ll learn how to avoid ending up in the same situation as me.
To register, email info@ShapeYourWorkplace.ca