Over 7 in 10 workers facing violence and harassment

Report finds HR is failing in responding to complaints by employees

Over 7 in 10 workers facing violence and harassment

Canadian employers must do a better job to address the issue of harassment, sexual harassment and violence in the workplace, according to a recent report.

Overall, 71.4 per cent of Canadians say they have experienced at least one form of harassment and violence or sexual harassment and violence, finds a survey from the Canadian Labour Congress and the Western University Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children.

Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) experienced at least one behaviour or practice of harassment and violence at work in the past two years and 43.9 per cent experienced at least one behaviour or practice of sexual harassment and violence in the past two years while at work.

Just over one-quarter (26.5 per cent) experienced at least one form of work-related online harassment in the past two years, found the survey of 4,878 adult Canadians conducted online from Oct. 21, 2020 until April 21, 2021.

In January, Alberta announced it is expanding anti-harassment training to more public sector workers in the province.

Who are the victims?

Gender-diverse respondents are the ones most likely to have experienced harassment and violence (82 per cent), sexual harassment and violence (73 per cent) and online harassment (35 per cent), according to the report.

However, many women (76 per cent, 46 per cent and 27 per cent, respectively) and men (67 per cent, 38 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively) also fall prey to violators.

Workers of different job types are more vulnerable to these types of experiences:

Workers

Harassment and violence

Sexual harassment and violence

Online harassment

health care and social assistance workers

76 per cent

44 per cent

27 per cent

workers involved in the exchange of money 

73 per cent

55 per cent

32 per cent

those who interact with the public

68 per cent

46 per cent

28 per cent

public administration workers

62 per cent

43 per cent

26 per cent

education services workers

62 per cent

33 per cent

24 per cent

those who serve alcohol

60 per cent

63 per cent

26 per cent

The most common types of sexual harassment and violence behaviours or practices experienced include:

  • sexual conversations (61 per cent)
  • touching or invading personal space (60 per cent)
  • sexual teasing/jokes (56 per cent)
  • unwanted looks or gestures (42 per cent
  • unwelcome communications (29 per cent)
  • stalking (23 per cent)

Meanwhile, the most common harassment and violence behaviours or practices experienced include:

  • verbal intimidation (72 per cent)
  • rumour spreading/negative comments (71 per cent)
  • received persistent criticism of work or effort (68 per cent)
  • sabotaged or got their performance undermined (58 per cent)
  • physical intimidation (50 per cent)
  • given unreasonable deadlines/tasks (48 per cent)
  • excluded from work-related social activities (45 per cent)

These experiences have had a negative effect on workers’ careers:

Impacts on work

Workplace harassment and violence

Sexual harassment and violence

Workers were reassigned/transferred against their wishes

89 per cent

87 per cent

Workers were transferred, suspended, fired or lost a shift

88 per cent

88 per cent

Workers transferred or quit to take another job

84 per cent

82 per cent

Workers were denied a promotion, pay increase, good performance rating, or good reference

77 per cent

70 per cent

Workers missed work/left early/arrived late

70 per cent

63 per cent

Workers’ productivity declined

55 per cent

43 per cent

Workers lost trust in team/unit/department

46 per cent

35 per cent

Workers lost trust in superiors

41 per cent

25 per cent

On top of all of that, reporting such incidents has not been a positive experience for many workers either, as more than half of people who reported to a union (51 per cent), supervisor or manager (52 per cent) or made a formal report or grievance (55 per cent) about harassment and violence said it made no difference.

The same was true for sexual harassment and violence (55 per cent, 50 per cent and 44 per cent, respectively).

And roughly one-quarter said reporting made the situation worse: union (26 per cent for violence and harassment, 21 per cent for sexual harassment and violence); supervisor or manager (30 per cent, 29 per cent) and formal report or grievance (19 per cent, 32 per cent).

And many workers are not happy with the actions taken by those responsible for workers’ safety and wellbeing in the workplace – particularly by HR where 70 per cent of employees are dissatisfied with the response:

Who’s responsible?

Very dissatisfied

Somewhat dissatisfied

Neutral

Somewhat satisfied

Very satisfied

Supervisor or manager

54 per cent

11 per cent

10 per cent

13 per cent

11 per cent

HR rep.

60 per cent

10 per cent

13 per cent

11 per cent

7 per cent

Union

34 per cent

13 per cent

15 per cent

17 per cent

21 per cent

Others

54 per cent

6 per cent

20 per cent

8 per cent

11 per cent

Too often, people are afraid to speak up about harassment or uncomfortable situations at work. One of the top reasons is safety concerns and fear of backlash from the perpetrator (33 per cent), according to the Woman Abuse Council of Toronto (WomanACT).

Things have to change, according to the report from the Canadian Labour Congress and the Western University.

“It is evident that current systems of reporting and response and actions taken thus far are not working and that workers continue to experience major barriers to reporting, including fears and experiences of retaliation,” it notes. “A comprehensive approach to prevention is urgently needed.”

This approach must include specific strategies for sectors with higher prevalence rates where workers face an increased risk of exposure to harassment and violence, including harassment and violence from third parties, and this requires the involvement of all levels of government, unions and employers, according to the report.

“While changes in legislation, collective agreement language, and workplace policy are logical outcomes, it will also be necessary to increase awareness, training, risk assessments, and adjustments to working conditions and environments to reduce hazards.”

Recent articles & video

Nominations open for the 2024 Lexpert Rising Stars

Data and full lifecycle analysis crucial for ESG reporting, says Miller Thomson’s Christie McLeod

Navigating negligence: legal strategies in E.R negligence litigation

Jennifer Teskey, the Canadian managing partner at Norton Rose Fulbright, on talent and motivation

Marina Paperny on rejoining BLG to advise litigators after a nearly 30-year judicial career

Public Safety Minister emphasizes cyber defences in response to Auditor General's report

Most Read Articles

Whether 'open banking' or 'consumer-driven' banking, the goal of sharing data remains the same

BC Supreme Court awards damages in ICBC privacy breach class action

How to spot ChatGPT output masquerading as legal analysis

Husband's transfer of matrimonial home to wife fraudulent: Ontario Court of Appeal