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Half of Alberta workers have experienced sexual harassment, but few report it to HR: Survey

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June 6, 2023
By Talent Canada

Photo: Adobe Stock

Half of workers in Alberta have experienced workplace sexual harassment, and three in five (61%) have observed it happening in workplaces, according to a new survey.

Despite those numbers, the report found sexual harassment is largely going unreported in the province, with just one in 10 workers (11%) indicating they reported an incident to a manager or boss. Even fewer (7%) went to HR, according to the survey conducted by RA2 Research on behalf of the Workers’ Resource Centre.

Fears over negative career consequences

Exploring the barriers currently keeping Albertans quiet on incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace, the research found that one in five (21%) avoided reporting an incident because they were unsure if the issue would be taken seriously, while 15% say they avoided reporting for fear of negative career consequences.

These unreported and unresolved incidents can have significant negative effects for both individuals and employers, including posing serious health and safety risks for workers, increasing absenteeism and costs to organizations.


“The reality is that most employees are reluctant to come forward if they are being sexually harassed or harassed in general. Their silence has devastating impacts with many forced to live in fear of repercussions or forced out of the workplace, resulting in long-term consequences on their physical and mental wellbeing, their lives, and professional and personal relationships,” said Carolyn Krahn, executive director of the Workers’ Resource Centre..

New resource for workers

The Workers’ Resource Centre is launching a new resource, HereforHelp.ca — a sexual harassment resource hub for Alberta workers.

The centralized platform serves as a collaborative hub, uniting organizations from various regions of the province to offer a comprehensive range of services – from providing crucial legal information, assistance navigating employment rights, counselling support, and reporting guidance, it said. By bringing together these resources, HereForHelp.ca aims to guide and empower Albertans affected by workplace sexual harassment to drive resolution.

“HereForHelp.ca is a collective commitment to address and combat the issue of sexual harassment in the ongoing effort to aid Alberta workers to effectively identify, address, and prevent workplace sexual harassment and foster safer and more inclusive workplaces,” said Krahn. “(It) encourages victim-survivors to understand reporting and legal action options, assert their rights, and seek the assistance required to navigate through challenging circumstances.”

Assessment tool

To help more Albertans speak up about their experiences with sexual harassment in the workplace, the Workers’ Resource Centre developed an assessment tool to guide impacted Albertans to immediate referrals, and better access to relevant information, including free legal information with referrals to legal counsel. Just 5% of Alberta workers impacted say they reached out to a lawyer or legal service to discuss an incident of sexual harassment, according to the latest research.

“Workplace harassment encompasses various forms, including verbal and psychological mistreatment, as well as more serious forms such as physical and sexual harassment. All types of workplace harassment are illegal. Beyond compromising an employee’s productivity, comfort, and safety, these offences can also subject organizations to legal repercussions if they fail to address and manage harassment effectively,” said Krahn.

Job precarity during the pandemic and post-pandemic economic uncertainty may be further discouraging many Albertans from taking action to report or seek support after witnessing or experiencing sexual harassment at their place of work, she said.

“Ensuring Alberta workers who witness or experience sexual harassment understand their options and encouraging them to speak up and speak out against unlawful behaviour is critical for reducing these types of workplace incidents,” she said. “To do that, employees need tools and guidance to properly identify and navigate these often sensitive and difficult situations. The guidance available through HereForHelp.ca offers survivors, coworkers, employers and allies strategies to take action against incidents of sexual harassment at work.”

Revised OHS rules

This June marks the fifth anniversary of Alberta’s revised occupational health and safety (OHS) rules, which were updated to help prevent workplace bullying, harassment and violence while providing better support to workers. One-third of Alberta workers (35%) who have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment say that lack of support is keeping them from reporting or discussing the incident.

By bridging the gap in accessibility, HereForHelp.ca effectively empowers Albertans to seek the help they need, regardless of their geographical location. Workers in smaller municipalities or rural areas are just as likely to report experiencing sexual harassment (40%), compared to those in Calgary (42%) or Edmonton (38%).

Women (46%) and younger Albertans (56%) are the most likely to have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual jokes and inappropriate comments are the most common forms of sexual harassment Alberta workers have witnessed, with six in ten (59%) admitting they had witnessed this type of harassment.

Albertans impacted by workplace sexual harassment can visit HereForHelp.ca for further information, resources and support.

Other Survey Highlights

  • Lower-level employees (1%) are the least likely to report or discuss sexual harassment they have experienced or witnessed with social services or a non-profit organization, while executives are the most likely to (19%).
  • Albertans at the management level (20%) are the most likely to avoid reporting or discussing sexual harassment for fear of negative career consequences such as retaliation, reputation damage, or withheld advancement.
  • Albertans working in organizations with a staff of between 20 and 99 employees (51%) are significantly more likely to experience sexual harassment in their workplace than those working at larger or smaller organizations.
  • Alberta workers 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%).
  • Women under the age of 55 (53%) in Alberta are far more likely to experience sexual harassment compared to others (33%) in the workplace.

The Workers’ Resource Centre (WRC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for workers in Alberta and safeguarding them against exploitative practices in the workplace. Through a range of social programs offered free of charge to all Albertans, the WRC provides education, assistance, and guidance on workplace challenges including sexual harassment, workplace injuries, employment standards, insurance, and disability.

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