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Government of Canada taking action against harassment, sexual violence at work

1 in 3 federal workers has experienced sexual harassment
A placard with the hashtag "MeToo" is seen on a European Parliament member's desk during a debate to discuss preventive measures against sexual harassment on Oct. 25. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

The federal government has introduced a framework that aims to make federally regulated workplaces and Parliament Hill free from harassment and sexual violence.

The framework has three pillars: prevent incidents of harassment and violence from occurring; respond effectively to these incidents when they do occur; and support victims, survivors and employers in the process.

“Power imbalances and gender norms underpin our culture, which has led to tolerance of these behaviours for far too long. Research shows that harassment and violence in Canadian workplaces are persistent and pervasive, and that incidents often go unreported because people fear retaliation,” the Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) said in a news release.

According to the Federal Jurisdiction Workplace Survey, which was released in November 2016, 60 per cent of employees reported having experienced harassment; 30 per cent said they had experienced sexual harassment; 21 per cent reported experiencing violence; and three per cent said they had experienced sexual violence. According to respondents, the incidents are not dealt with effectively —  41 per cent said no attempt was made to resolve an incident they reported.

Harassment and violence have long-term negative effects not just for people who've experienced them, but for employers as well, through lost productivity, absenteeism and turnover, ESDC said.

Bill C-65 would amend existing provisions in the Canada Labour Code, replacing the patchwork of laws and policies that address these issues within the federal jurisdiction, putting into place one comprehensive approach that takes the full spectrum of harassment and violence into consideration. Federally regulated workplaces, the federal public service, parliamentary workplaces (such as the Senate and the House of Commons) and political staff on Parliament Hill would be protected by this legislation.

The changes being proposed to the code will repeal weak provisions and ensure employers are required to take steps to prevent and protect employees against these behaviours, to respond to them when they do occur and to offer support to employees affected by them.

The government will also launch an awareness campaign to challenge misconceptions and stereotypes and develop sample policies for employers. To support people who do experience harassment or violence at work, the government will provide outreach to employees and employers to help them navigate the workplace prevention and resolution process and to help direct victims to support services.

Survey respondents reported that women are more likely than men to experience sexual harassment, and people with disabilities and members of a visible minority group are more likely to experience harassment than other groups.

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