Photo: Sierra Bein

New sexual harassment laws met with skepticism by female servers

In Communities1 Comment

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By Nicole Brumley

Imagine going to work and having someone ask you, “are you wearing panties under that skirt?”

Working in the service industry has its perks, but for many women it also comes with another reality—sexual assault. The Ontario government recently passed new laws aimed at preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, but concerns about enforcement is causing skepticism among some employees.

Bill 132, the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, came into effect on Sept.8. The Sexual Assault Action Coalition (SAAC) hosted a workshop on Monday night explaining the law and told workers that unless they file a complaint, the Ministry of Labour will not address cases of sexual assault.

“There are a lot of laws that are coming into effect that are really paying lip-service … because there is a lot of advocacy around it, but there’s not a lot of implementation,” said Lydia Dobson, co-founder of the SAAC and researcher on employment standards.

Danijela Kovac, restaurant server and former U of T student, said she has been a front of house worker for almost 20 years and has experienced sexual harassment from customers and managers.

“My rear end has been touched, my breasts have been touched … I’ve been called all sorts of names,” said Kovac as she listed her workplace experiences. “I was training as a server at a job and one of the regular [customers] asked if I was wearing panties underneath my skirt.”

Workplace sexual harassment is defined in Bill 132 as a solicitation or advance that a person ought to reasonably know is unwelcome. Employers are required to implement a harassment policy that entails:

  • Procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment
  • How complaints will be investigated and dealt with
  • That information about incidents will remain confidential
  • How a worker who has allegedly experienced sexual assault and the alleged harasser will be informed of the results of the investigation

Though Bill 132 is in the early stages Ryerson is seeing some change on campus already. This year, the staff of the Ram in the Rye and Oakham Cafe underwent training on sexual violence and prevention with the goal to create a more female-friendly bar.

To continue the conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace, you can follow SAAC on Twitter (@SaaCoalition) or Facebook.


  1. Great article! Thanks for bringing my voice and experiences into the conversation. Greatly appreciated!!
    Just wanted to state that I am still a student at U of T working towards my MEd in Workplace Learning and Social Change and I have recently left the service industry. 🙂

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