Comité SST

Sexual harassment: yes, it still exists

Sexual harassment: yes, it still exists

One might think, because it is 2016, that sexual harassment is an outdated concept, almost non-existent. One might think that today, the healthcare professionals are immune to this type of violence. That they have all the tools necessary to deal with it and quickly put an end to it. That they are not afraid to report it with the first moves or the first words, regardless of who is the perpetrator in their professional environment.

There is every reason to believe that, because it is talked about more openly, the administrators of the healthcare institutions are more prompt to react. That because policies of no violence exist, they are systematically applied and are an integral part of the culture.

However, that is not necessarily the case.

Biases are deep-seated and make reporting it still difficult today, because of fear of reprisals and the judgment of colleagues, because the harasser is in a position of authority and one is obliged to work alongside him, because one does not know who to turn to, or for fear of seeing one’s situation trivialized and to not receive the needed support and hope. However, like all other forms of violence elsewhere, sexual harassment is serious. Very serious. Unacceptable. It exists, it must be talked about and it must above all be reported!

As healthcare professionals, and as women, it we find that the policy to counteract workplace violence in effect in our institution is not respected, we should not turn a blind eye to it. The application of the policy is critical in all settings, but particularly in a work sector that is predominantly women as is the case in the healthcare sector. The administrators, as busy as they are, have an important role to play in the application of this policy and a responsibility in this respect. Even more so, every employer has the obligation to demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable measures to maintain a healthy and safe workplace, particularly on the psychological level.

If this is not the case, the healthcare professionals who are victims of sexual harassment must know that they are not alone, that their local union team is there to back them up. In fact, that is their primary role: defend their members, listen to them, accompany them and guide them throughout the approach that they might choose to undertake, and to make sure that their rights are respected. The union team has the necessary resources to provide assistance to any person experiencing a situation which can be very painful and difficult. They can turn to qualified personnel and have access to multiple resources. The FIQ has also developed considerable expertise in dealing with this type of file and is committed to every member that they represent being able to practice their profession in a healthy and respectful workplace.

Even if we don’t always see it, sexual harassment indeed exists in the healthcare setting. Still. And though it is troubling, this reality must absolutely not be swept under the rug. It deserves to be addressed openly, frankly, without taboos, and especially without hesitation and without fear.

OHS in the know?

A few years ago, the FIQ adopted a policy for fighting against violence. This, using the principles and the values promoted in matters of well-being and healthy relationships, is aimed at avoiding or stopping all forms of violence by taking the appropriate actions. It is intended for all the people in an institution, whether staff, visitors, patients, etc. Do not hesitate to refer to it to learn more about its scope, on the employer’s obligations, the possible recourses and the ways to act in prevention.

Selon une étude de l’Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST), (According to a study by the Institut de recherché Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST))“…the people at the greatest risk of being subjected to sexual harassment in their main job are the workers, the people between 15 and 34 years of age, unionized workers (non-managers), the people who work in the public or parapublic sector, those who are in contact with the public, those who have a part-time job and those with employment insecurity or a precarious job contract. Among the types of professions, the people in the “mixed” category are more exposed. As for the groups in the economic activity sector, the importance of the health care and social services one must be pointed out…” (p. 353). A summary of the study is available in English at

Behaviour which involves sexual harassment could be considered as psychological harassment. According to the labour standards, “The senior management of the business must make a tangible commitment to prevent and to put a stop to all psychological harassment at work. It must also clearly inform all employees of this commitment. In so doing, senior management will be putting in place conditions that promote the establishment of a prevention process. The commitment of senior management must be steadfast, known to all staff members and reiterated on a regular basis. This commitment must be part of the enterprise’s policy and give rise to tangible, credible and effective actions.”