Workers Health & Safety Centre

Workplace violence, harassment widespread but unaddressed, report.

Despite laws and other prevention efforts, Canadian workers report experiencing harassment and violence on the job and say little is being done to address it.

These alarming findings come from the first National Survey on Harassment and Violence at Work in Canada, the result of a partnership between Western University’s Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children, researchers from the University of Toronto, and the Canadian Labor Congress (CLC).

Armed with this national data, a clear prevention plan is urgently needed say the report authors: “Harassment and violence remain pervasive and destructive problems in contemporary Canadian workplaces.” When workplaces fail to take action, the cost is incalculable.

Which workers and workplaces are most impacted?

The findings speak volumes say the report authors, “Study participants clearly expressed their realities of being unprotected, unsupported, dismissed, devalued, and silenced.” Based upon their work experience in the two years prior to completing the survey, respondents reported the following:
  • Harassment and/or violence: 71.4 per cent experienced this.
  • Sexual harassment and violence: 43.9 per cent experienced this, often in the form of sexual conversations, touching and sexual teasing. For almost one-quarter it involved stalking and for some, sexual assault. These workers reported more impacts on physical and mental health and work life, some choosing to transfer jobs or quit to take other work.
  • Respondents who identify as LGBTQ2S+, Indigenous or who have at least one disability were more likely to experience all forms of violence and harassment.
  • 26.5 per cent experienced at least one form of work-related online harassment.

We can help! Register for WHSC Workplace Violence & Harassment training today.

Like previous research, those in health care and social services, education and public administration were more likely to be exposed to work-related aggression, partly due to workplace factors which put them in harm’s way. Respondents reported their work involved interacting with the public (71 per cent), exchanging money (13 per cent) and serving alcohol (8 per cent). More than half often worked alone, in isolation or in a remote location.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work options removed some from toxic work environments but for many others exposure to violence and harassment increased in severity (26 per cent), frequency (25 per cent), and duration (20 per cent), yet avenues for reporting decreased (19 per cent).

First national survey offers insights

The report, funded by the Government of Canada, is based on feedback from Canadian workers gathered through a national online bilingual survey and semi-structured interviews. The survey, conducted between October 21, 2020 and April 21, 2021, was open to anyone in Canada older than 18 who had been employed during the previous 12 months.

Of 4,878 survey participants, most had permanent work, the vast majority were union members (the Canadian average is 31.3 per cent), and three-quarters were women. Participants were largely employed in education, health care and social assistance, and public administration. Researchers noted, women and people with disabilities were over-represented and racialized and indigenous respondents were under-represented in the survey.  

The survey asked about the prevalence, forms and consequences of harassment and violence, sexual harassment and violence, and online harassment. Examples of each behaviour and practice were provided in the survey.

Lack of reporting still a problem

Many incidents of workplace harassment and violence still go unreported. Unionized workers were much more likely to report or file a grievance, compared to non-union workers, but both groups were less likely to report sexual harassment and violence. Those choosing not to report said it would make no difference or feared it might make the situation worse. Some said they did not know how to report, or to whom.

Given the magnitude of the problem, the report recommends a comprehensive approach to prevent all forms of workplace violence and harassment, with all levels of government, employers and unions alike committing to action. In real terms this means strengthening laws, negotiating collective agreement language, creating more responsive workplace policies and programs, improving working conditions, raising awareness and offering better training.  

The Canadian government can do its part by ratifying the International Labour Organization’s Convention no. 190 which commits signatories to promoting and realizing work that is free from violence and harassment.

On the report’s release, CLC president, Bea Bruske, said it offered “sobering insight”. The CLC will develop a multi-year plan to address harassment and violence which is to include education programs, collective bargaining approaches and legislative reform. Said Bruske, “We know that this is an opportunity to create lasting change and the labour movement will not let this opportunity pass. We are prepared to do what it takes to make work safer for everyone.”

Start with WHSC training and resources

By law, Ontario employers must address workplace violence and workplace harassment.  As a minimum they must develop and implement policies and program(s), including measures and procedures for reporting and investigating, and they must provide all workers with information and instruction on the content of all of these.

Federally-regulated employers also have significantly expanded duties to address work place harassment and violence prevention, including an obligation to provide training to workers.

Need help? Check out our workplace violence and harassment resources. Next? Register for our Workplace Violence and Harassment training program available in our convenient, COVID-safe, virtual classrooms.


Need more training?
We regularly schedule JHSC Certification Training and training for Federal Committees and Representatives in our virtual classrooms.
Related resources:
Harassment and Violence in Canadian Workplaces: It’s [Not] Part of the Job
International Labour Organization’ Violence and Harassment Convention no. 190
CLC: National Survey Reports Widespread Harassment and Violence in Workplaces
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