Just 7% of employees report sexual harassment to HR – here’s why

New report paints worrying picture of abuse in Canadian workplaces

Just 7% of employees report sexual harassment to HR – here’s why

Almost half of Alberta employees have faced sexual harassment in the workplace, according to a report released this week, however just one in ten have reported it to their manager.

Research conducted by RA2 Research, on behalf of the Workers’ Resource Center, found that three in five workers (61%) have also observed instances of sexual harassment – and yet the majority still decline to report the abuse. Most worryingly, just seven percent of either those who’ve seen sexual harassment happen or have had it happen to them report the issue to HR.

Speaking to Carolyn Krahn, Executive Director of the Workers’ Resource Centre, she tells HRD that many employees avoid raising the issue in fear of potential ramifications.

“Unfortunately, some workers avoid reporting sexual harassment due to the fear of negative career consequences or because they feel unsure if the incident will be taken seriously,” says Krahn. “The survey results also indicated that a lack of support is keeping some Alberta workers from reporting or discussing an incident.

“Job precarity during the pandemic may also be a factor, and post-pandemic economic uncertainty may be further discouraging Albertans from reporting or seeking support after witnessing or experiencing workplace sexual harassment.”

A lack of trust in HR

But how well-founded is this concern? And why are employees avoiding speaking to HR about harassment? It could come from an intrinsic lack of trust. According to data from  ARRIS Composites, 34% of employees say they wouldn’t approach their HR representative because of sheer mistrust.

Looking at the data, one in five (21%) avoided reporting an incident because they were unsure if the issue would be taken seriously, while fifteen percent say they avoided reporting for fear of negative career consequences. What’s more, management-level employees are the most likely to avoid reporting abuse as they firmly believe it could hurt their chances at career advancement.

Employees at the executive level are significantly more likely (69%) to have observed instances of sexual harassment in the workplace, compared to management (61%) and contributors (50%).

And if you think sexual harassment only happens in-person, think again. Remote employees are also subjected to unwanted abuse – something that’s seemingly increased since the pivot to overnight digitization.

“Workplace harassment encompasses various forms, including verbal and psychological mistreatment, as well as more serious forms such as physical and sexual harassment,” says Krahn. “It can occur in many different settings, including remote work, where harassment may happen through online platforms or other communication channels.”

Managing harassment allegations properly

When it comes to handling abuse allegations, employers need to act quickly but cautiously. Speaking with HRD, Patrick Essiminy, Head of the Montréal Employment and Labour Group at Stikeman Elliott LLP, reminds employers that they have a legal obligation to provide a workplace free from any form of harassment. And a failure to provide that could lead to legal repercussions.

Essiminy says it’s essential that employers understand that any negligence on their side, including a turning a blind eye, will incur liability. And this all begins with crafting and implementing a watertight policy.

For Krahn, she advises employers to understand that there are tools out there to support both employees and organizations to better pinpoint, handle, and ultimate eradicate abuse at work.

“These kinds of offences can subject organizations to legal repercussions if they fail to address and manage harassment effectively - which is why it’s critical that they seek out tools and guidance to properly identify and navigate these often sensitive and difficult situations,” says Krahn.

“The guidance available through HereForHelp.ca offers employers, survivors, coworkers and allies strategies to take action against incidents of sexual harassment at work.”

HereForHelp.ca is a collaborative resource hub that provides accessible support services and guidance to individuals across Alberta impacted by workplace sexual harassment.

A toolkit for abuse reporting

The hub aims to address some of the barriers keeping Albertans from speaking up about incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace, and bridge current gaps in accessibility.

“The centralized platform unites organizations from various regions, providing legal information, counselling support, assistance with navigating employment rights, and reporting guidance to empower Albertans affected by sexual harassment and to drive resolution,” adds Krahn.  

The hub includes an easy-to-use assessment tool which guides impacted Albertans to immediate referrals and better access to relevant information, including free legal information with referrals to legal counsel.

“This provides victims with a safe and separate space from their work environment, enabling them to gather essential information and find the support they need to navigate their challenging circumstances,” Krahn tells HRD.

“I encourage anyone impacted by workplace sexual harassment to visit HereForHelp.ca to explore the information, resources and support available.”


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