What is harassment?

Harassment is an ongoing course of mean-spirited treatment which is known to be, or would be expected to be, unwelcome by a person or group.

Harassment can include behaviours such as bullying, intimidation, humiliation, offensive jokes, and racial slurs or comments. It can also be unwanted physical contact from patting to pinching or punching, as well as showing sexually explicit images.

Harassment based on any of the grounds can be the basis of a human rights complaint. This behaviour can include :

  • Following someone for the purposes of intimidation
  • Threatening violence against someone
  • Being repeatedly verbally abusive, swearing, degrading, or insulting an individual or group
  • Repeatedly humiliating or embarrassing someone
  • Refusing to modify behaviour if it is known to be unwelcome
  • Refusing to talk to or interact with someone
  • Non-consensual physical contact
  • Posting threatening or insulting messages on social media, in text messages, or by email

To file a claim of harassment under the Act, the harassment must be related to a ground.


Steve walks with a limp. When he visits the gym, some of the other members mock him by imitating his limp and calling him a cripple. This makes him feel angry and embarrassed. The ground in this example is disability.

Darlene has decided to run as a candidate in an upcoming election. Her neighbour is running as the opposing candidate. He also owns a local restaurant. Since announcing her candidacy, she has noticed that the waitstaff has been making snide comments about her campaign, and charging her for things that she hasn’t ordered. Last week she went into the restaurant and found one of her campaign posters up on the wall which had been altered with a sharpie. The ground in this example is political activity.

What is Workplace Harassment?

Workplace harassment is behaviour in a workplace that is unwelcome and offensive. Workplace harassment embarrasses, humiliates, and makes the workplace negative and uncomfortable.  To file a complaint of harassment under the NWT Human Rights Act, the harassment must be related to a ground.

Workplace harassment can include:

  • Unwanted jokes, insults or remarks that embarrass or insult someone
  • Homophobic remarks that put someone down for being gay, lesbian or bisexual
  • Showing racist, sexist, or other offensive pictures through e-mail, posters, magazines or other materials
  • Targeting someone for greater scrutiny and criticism because they are different
  • Refusing to talk to or work with someone
  • Destroying or damaging personal property
  • Unwanted sexual invitations and sexual contact
  • Threats and intimidation
  • Unwanted physical contact such as touching, hitting, pinching, and patting.


Abbey is the only African-Canadian person in her office. Some of her co-workers make fun of her hair and clothes and they exclude her from conversations and work-related socials. One of her co-workers refuses to work on projects with her because she thinks she will get malaria. The ground in this example is race.

Bert just turned 65. Most of his co-workers are in their late twenties and tease him about being the oldest. They call him dinosaur, geezer, and have started interfering with his workload. They say things like they don’t want him to miss his afternoon nap. Someone left a tube of preparation H on his desk last week with a sympathy card. Bert feels angry at their lack of respect and frustrated that his manager hasn’t done anything to address it despite his repeated complaints. The ground in this example is age.

What is sexual harassment?

The most prevalent form of harassment is sexual harassment. People of all genders and sexual orientations can encounter sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” that has a negative effect on where you work, live, or receive services. It can be verbal or physical. “Unwelcome” attention includes any attention that a reasonable person would know is unwanted. Sexual harassment often occurs in a situation where the harasser has more power than you do. Sexual harassment is discrimination on the basis of sex.

Sexual harassment can include:

  • Sexual contact or threat of sexual contract
  • Pressuring someone for the purpose of sexual contact which is not consensual
  • Inappropriate comments about a person’s body
  • Sexually degrading words used to describe a person,
  • Propositions of a sexual nature,
  • Display of sexually offensive pictures, videos, or objects;
  • Inappropriate touching, patting, petting, squeezing, pinching, etc.
  • Offensive text messages, emails, or content posted to social media sites


Heidi is a mechanic. Her co-workers display posters of topless women in their lockers and the lunch room. They often make inappropriate comments about her body. She has told them their behaviour is unwelcome but they refuse to quit.

Tammy is a young lesbian who works with a non-profit LGBT organization. Jane, The organization’s executive director has asked Tammy out on numerous occasions. Tammy has indicated she is not interested in dating Jane. After Tammy refused another date, Jane started telling Tammy about her sexual fantasies started touching and groping Tammy when they are alone.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Sexual harassment in the workplace may include a promise of reward in exchange for sexual favours. Or it may include a threat, either stated or unstated, that if you don’t go along with the harassment there will be job consequences. Consequences can include losing your job, or not getting the shift you want, or being demoted, or being denied a promotion.

Sexual harassment can also occur without any promises of reward or threats.  The harassment can make the workplace an intimidating, hostile, or offensive. This is sometimes called “a poisoned work environment.”


Lisa works at a restaurant as a waitress. Her boss sometimes pats her bottom and tells her she is doing a great job. This makes her feel uncomfortable.

While on a business trip to Toronto, Dave’s boss told him that he would likely get the promotion he is after if he had sex with her.

If you have questions or concerns about your specific situation, call us. Our inquiry service is free and confidential.

This post is also available in: French