Workers Health & Safety Centre

Harassment widespread in workplaces, finds Statistics Canada

A recent report adds to a growing body of evidence showing harassment in Canadian workplaces is in need of workplace interventions and regulatory enforcement.
 
Conducted by Statistics Canada this report, using survey data from 9,000 respondents living in the 10 provinces aged 15 to 64 who worked for pay in 2016, found almost one in five women had been harassed at work at some point during the year while one in every eight men reported similar experiences.
 
For the purposes of this survey, harassment included verbal abuse, humiliating behaviour, threats, violence and unwanted sexual attention or harassment.

Women report more abuse

Verbal abuse was experienced most often with 13 per cent of women and 10 per cent of men reporting it in the prior 12 months. Next most prevalent was humiliating behaviour reported by six per cent of women and five per cent of men.  
 
Women were found to suffer physical violence at twice the rate of men and five times as likely to report sexual harassment or unwanted sexual attention—this last point echoing prior research. For women, being young, single or unmarried was found to add to sexual harassment vulnerability. Researchers suggest these characteristics may be “proxies for less seniority at work and poor job quality—factors that may increase the likelihood of experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace to the extent that they imply low organizational power.”
 
Harassment was more pronounced among women and men who identified as homosexual or bisexual compared to heterosexuals. Excess suffering was also experienced by aboriginal compared to non-aboriginal women.   
 
The survey also found clients, customers, supervisors and managers were the most common reported source of harassment. Not surprising then women and men employed in sectors involving direct contact with the public report the most harassment with health occupations leading the way—again echoing prior research. In this sector, 27 per cent of women and 21 per cent of men indicated they had suffered harassment in the last year.

Beyond the immediate source of harassment, Stats Can researchers looked at the association between workplace harassment and work environment. Surveyed workers reported several factors indicating a poor-quality work environment, including a lack of input into decision making, competition among colleagues, conflict with managers, and unmanageable workloads. A full 40 per cent of women for instance reported rarely or never experiencing manageable workloads. By way of explaining their reasons for pursuing these factors in the survey, the researchers observed, “Previous research suggests that the psychosocial quality of the work environment is an important determinant of workplace harassment.”

Employer obligations

Recognized as a global workplace problem, the International Labour Organization recently passed a convention recognizing harassment and violence “can constitute a human rights violation or abuse…is a threat to equal opportunities, is unacceptable and incompatible with decent work.” It serves as a reminder for member states, including Canada, they have a responsibility to promote a “general environment of zero tolerance.”
 
Here in Ontario, employers have legal obligations to address the issue of workplace harassment and violence pursuant to Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Chief among these obligations is the requirement to develop a workplace harassment policy (in addition to a workplace violence policy). Employers must also develop a harassment program, which includes measures and procedures for workers to report incidents and how they will be investigated and addressed. Unfortunately, unlike the violence program requirements, OSHA has no specific requirement for the prevention of harassment — an omission many health and safety activists say must be amended. Regardless, employers must provide all workers with information and instruction on the content of the workplace harassment (and violence) policy and program.

Data recently obtained by the Globe and Mail show more than 3,500 Ontario employers were cited for violating these violence and harassment obligationsover an 18 month period ending January, 2018.
 
Though, this Statistics Canada survey and other research suggest non-compliance is even more common with worker representatives calling for “meaningful and consistent enforcement” of these laws and Criminal Code provisions.
 
Legal implications outside the scope of the OHSA can also be costly. In February, 2019, Ontario Superior Court awarded nearly $200,000 in damagesto a worker who alleged suffering abuse and harassment and had informed the employer on more than one occasion and asked for intervention. The employer ignored the request.
 
Employers also face financial costs for absenteeism, presenteeism, turnover and lower productivity related to the stress and mental health outcomes of harassment at work.

WHSC can help!

For our part, the Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) offers a range of resources and a three-hour Workplace Violence and Harassment Prevention Training program designed to help workplace parties better understand workplace violence, harassment and bullying, prevent their occurrence and to fully comply with legal obligations. We also offer training programs to help employers meet the training and competency requirements for supervisorsjoint committee members and worker health and safety representatives, who all play essential roles in the pursuit of healthier, safer workplaces.
      
For additional information about workplace harassment, bullying and violence training or related legal obligations, contact the WHSC and ask to speak with a training services representative. 

Call:    1-888-869-7950
Visit:   www.whsc.on.ca
Email: contactus@whsc.on.ca
 
Additional related information:
Violence in long-term care cries out for prevention, new reports
Workplace violence growing in education sector, study finds
Work-related stressors impact men and women differently, research finds