It’s possible to stop harassment.
Gail had worked for ten years as a graphic designer for a multinational company. Her employer had had a sexual harassment policy in place as long as she had worked there, but she had been sexually harassed by her boss for over six years.
All identifying details in this story have been altered to protect privacy.
Workplace sexual harassment exists
Gail loved her job and was good at it. But after six long years of being sexually harassed by her boss, she had decided to pack it in.
Gail and her husband were both avid back country skiers. He had said he wanted to move to their condominium in Whistler, a town where the mountains would be at their back door, and she had said, “Why not?”
Gail didn’t know how she would support herself once they made the move, but she knew she needed to get away from her boss. She had already given him verbal notice that she was planning to move.
When Gail came to see me, she and her husband had already launched their move. She thought she would be able to find freelance work as a graphic designer but hadn’t tested the market. She said she’d simply gotten to the point where she couldn’t handle being at work any more.
A psychologist can offer you support
I worked with Gail in my private practice as a psychologist for about two months. She arrived at our fourth appointment carrying a cardboard box. She said it contained hardcopies of all the harassing photographs and text messages she had received from her boss.
Gail showed me the contents of the box. There were colour print-outs of hard core pornographic images that her boss had emailed her. I looked at the print-outs to support Gail and to be aware of the enormity of what Gail had been put through.
There was also a stack of text-based emails her boss had sent her. Some directed her to buy sexual how-to books on-line. Some directed her to view websites.
A work place policy is not enough
I asked Gail if her employer had a policy against staff using work computers to access and share pornography. She said it did. She said her boss had sent all the documents from his personal email account to her personal email account to circumvent the policy.
I asked Gail if she had complained about her boss’ behaviour to her employer. She said she had wanted to but hadn’t expected she would receive support.
I asked Gail how she wanted to proceed. She said her primary goal was to ensure that no other woman would be harmed by her boss after she had left her job. I asked her if she wanted to call an employment lawyer with me so she could explore her options. She said yes, so Gail and I called Jamie, a senior lawyer I have worked with in the past.
An employment lawyer knows the terrain
Jamie, the lawyer, told Gail that she had been constructively dismissed because she had felt she had no choice but to quit her job to end the harassment. Jamie asked whether Gail wanted to keep her job, but Gail said no because she just wanted to leave.
Jamie said she would send a demand letter to the employer that outlined the details of the case and what Gail wanted to receive in settlement. Jamie said Gail’s boss would be terminated from his job immediately because Gail’s evidence of sexual harassment was so compelling.
Jamie said the only other thing the law could do for Gail was to try to put her in a reasonable position financially. Jamie said Gail was entitled to up to one month’s pay for each year she had worked in her job.
Gail said she also wanted to ask her employer to pay for therapy so she could continue to work in therapy. Jamie said this was a reasonable request and that she would include it in the demand letter.
Motivation to advocate for yourself
Gail said she wasn’t motivated by the idea of receiving a financial settlement, although it would help her to re-establish herself professionally and pay for therapy.
She said that two more important things would come from her making a formal complaint to her employer, with her lawyer’s help. One was that her boss wouldn’t be able to harm any more women at work. The second was that she had learned how to defend herself.
Gail’s success in the second area – learning to defend herself – started after a painful six-year period. She has a lot of living left to do. What she takes away from this experience can help her to put her feet on the ground more firmly for the next 50 years.
— Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta