Home Workplace News Statistics Canada data reveals high rates of workplace harassment in Saskatchewan

Statistics Canada data reveals high rates of workplace harassment in Saskatchewan

by Local Journalism Initiative
By Carol Baldwin | Wakaw Recorder

A recent Statistics Canada workforce study has found that nearly one in every two women and more than a third of men 15 years and older, who responded to the survey in Saskatchewan, had reported being harassed or sexually assaulted in their workplace.

This survey from 2020, like some others completed by Statistics Canada, follows a five-year cycle and is therefore a snapshot of information rather than a linear gathering of information.

According to data released prior to Valentine’s Day, the study found that 43.8 percent of Saskatchewan workers reported to have experienced workplace harassment at some point.

Only Alberta and British Columbia were found to have worse records than Saskatchewan when it came to lifetime workplace harassment experiences. Unfortunately, Saskatchewan claimed first place when the time frame was narrowed. In the 12 months preceding the survey, 30.9 percent of Saskatchewan respondents reported having been harassed at work.

The study’s findings that people with disabilities, Indigenous people, and women were consistently overrepresented among people who experience harassment, discrimination, and violence should not come as any surprise.

“Saskatchewan’s high rate of violence cannot be tolerated,” Don Morgan, then Justice Minister and Attorney General, said via a press release dated October 22, 2018.  “Government, organizations, communities, and all Saskatchewan residents need to work together to stop violence and abuse in our communities.”

Yet Saskatchewan maintains its status as an abusive and potentially violent place for women and others to live and work. Chantelle Priel is a social worker and the Public Education and Outreach Co-ordinator with the Regina Sexual Assault Centre.

She told CBC News for their article published on February 14, 2024, that workplace harassment stems from forms of discrimination.

“We can see how beliefs like racism, sexism, homophobia manifest themselves within society and they create things like microaggressions, the most common form of gender discrimination.”

Sexual harassment usually occurs in the workplace and is an expression of power that may be accompanied by threats of retaliation, promises of advancement, or abuse.

The harasser is usually someone in authority who is using their power to intimidate someone they see as having less status than themselves. It may be one incident or a series of incidents, but it is always unsolicited and unwelcome behaviour that can take many forms.

Therefore, it is important to interpret sexual harassment as any behavior the person experiencing it perceives as offensive. Sexual harassment may be verbal, physical, or visual, and may include sexual remarks, “jokes” with sexual overtones, a sexual advance or invitation, threats, leering, displaying offensive images or photographs, physical contact (touching, patting, pinching, or brushing against) and sexual or physical assault.

Due to the demeaning nature of sexual harassment, those who experience it feel humiliated, ashamed, degraded, embarrassed, and angry. All forms of harassment impair job performance, decrease job satisfaction, and can physical responses such as headaches, nervousness, insomnia, and anxiety attacks. 

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code protects the right to equality without discrimination based on the protected grounds. Sex is a protected ground. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission is a body within the Government of Saskatchewan, whose mission is to “promote and protect the individual dignity, fundamental freedoms, and equal rights of Saskatchewan citizens.”

The Commission receives and investigates complaints of discrimination, but it does not have prosecutorial powers. The Commission conducts an investigation and, when appropriate, refers the matter for hearing at the Court of King’s Bench. 

Unfortunately, the onus rests with the recipient of the harassment to take a stand, which can understandably be difficult if the harasser is in a position of power but can be equally difficult when it is a same-level co-worker. Employees who do not condone or participate in the workplace culture can concurrently experience ostracism, pressure, and bullying to be ‘part of the team’, and even be penalized by being overlooked for promotions.

Even reporting harassment to a supervisor may not rectify anything, if the supervisor has known the harasser and has never ‘seen that side’ of the individual, leaving the victim little recourse but to accept the situation or leave. There are things individuals facing workplace harassment should do and possibly the most important is to write it down. Document each action or remark with the date, time, and place it occurred and the names of those who witnessed it.

Tell the harasser to stop. Make it clear verbally, in writing, or both, that the behaviour is unwelcome and must stop immediately. Talk about it. Tell a trusted friend or co-worker, or if there is a union tell the steward. Tell the harasser’s supervisor. The Saskatchewan Employment Act outlines the rights and responsibilities of employers and workers to ensure Saskatchewan workplaces are free of harassment. If still nothing is done, contact the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. Any form of retaliation due to filing a complaint is prohibited by the Code.

In a 2017 study available through the National Library of Medicine, titled The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women by Heather McLaughlin, Christopher Uggen, and Amy Blackstone, they noted that exiting a “harassing work environment may be costly for women’s long-term careers if they sacrifice firm-specific tenure and human capital, lose access to social networks, experience gaps in employment, or cannot find comparable work.”

When men experience disruptions to their school or work trajectory, they remain likely to obtain relatively high-paying jobs (Dwyer Rachel E, Randy Hodson, McCloud Laura. Gender, debt, and dropping out of college. Gender & Society. 2012; 27: 30–55.) The authors found the same not to be true for women. This American study used information gathered from a Youth Development Study and then followed up with a subset of the study’s respondents to direct their study.

They noted that targets of harassment reported becoming distrusting of people when co-workers refused to stand up to the offending person, could find their career stalled because they refused to participate in a crude and derogatory workplace culture, their responsibilities decreased, and their relationships with supervisors and co-workers weakened. Feeling they were under surveillance was also reported. 

Although sexual harassment is conceptually different and apart from gender discrimination and workplace bullying, these behaviours, the authors noted, often overlap in practice. Some women, the data suggests, quit work to avoid harassers, while others quit because of dissatisfaction or frustration with their employer’s response. In both cases, harassment targets often reported that leaving their positions felt like the only way to escape the toxic workplace climate.

The result of this study indicates that harassment experienced by women in their twenties and early thirties pushed many ‘off-course’ in their career path. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5644356/)

Gaps in employment and poor references mean many people who leave work following harassment have to find work at a lower level of pay and responsibility and may need to retrain to build new careers thereby leaving them further behind others in their age cohort. Sexual harassment disproportionately pushes women out of certain sectors of the economy thus continuing gender segregation and exacerbating financial inequalities. In an emailed response to CBC News relating to the article published on February 14 titled “Sask. among worst provinces for workplace harassment in recent StatsCan study,” Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety stated that harassment of any kind is unacceptable at a workplace. “

Over the last several years additional provisions have been introduced to help create healthier, safer workplaces,” it said. It would appear, however, that these provisions have had little impact on workplace culture in Saskatchewan.

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