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Harassment: The Saskatchewan experience

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Is Saskatchewan, birthplace of Tommy Douglas, the co-operative movement, and curling champions galore, a hotbed of harassment?

In 2007, Saskatchewan amended its Occupational Health and Safety Act to address workplace violence and personal harassment. This made Saskatchewan the second province in the country to extend this type of protection to employees. The first province was Quebec, when it amended the Act Respecting Labour Standards in 2004.

What happens when employees are provided this protection? According to Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, in 2006-2007 there were 212 harassment inquiries and 31 investigations or cases. In 2011-2012, the number of inquiries jumped to 1,305 and there were 297 investigations or cases.

Does this mean the good people of Saskatchewan have a harassment problem? Are their harassment problems any worse than any other part of the country?

I suspect not.  What I believe the numbers show is that once a new statutory protection of this kind is introduced, employees will make use of it.  There was a similar rise in complaints when Quebec amended its Act and again when Ontario’s Bill 168 amended the Occupational Health and Safety Act in 2010. In addition, as Canada’s strongest economy with a growing population (according to the April 2013 issue of Report on Business magazine), Saskatchewan’s workplaces are likely becoming bigger, more diverse, and more complex.  It is not surprising that harassment complaints are on the rise.

More generally, what these numbers reflect is a growing intolerance of violence and harassment in workplaces across the country, and growing confidence on the part of employees, and those who represent them, to complain about inappropriate workplace conduct.  Twenty years ago, an abusive boss might have been chalked up to “that’s life”. Now, in Saskatchewan, as in other parts of the country, personal harassment is a statutory breach.

Janice Rubin