Preventing Violence and Harassment in Canadian Workplaces

Approximately one in five violent incidents in Canada occurs at work, often leading to injuries and lost-time injury claims.

Every year, workplace violence and harassment incidents severely impact workers and workplaces across Canadian sectors and organizations. Examples of violent and harassing behaviours include hitting, kicking, biting, spitting, throwing objects, oral or written threats, sexual harassment, bullying, and verbal abuse that can inflict physical or psychological harm, or both.

The purpose of this research was to identify the extent of workplace violence and harassment across Canada, the availability of guidance resources, gaps in effective prevention and mitigation strategies, and the need for national standards or additional guidance.

This research focused on four key sectors, as workers in these industries experience the highest rates of workplace violence and harassment:

  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Government and Emergency Services
  • Service Sector
    • Tourism and Hospitality
    • Rest and Food Services
    • Retail

A literature review and stakeholder input demonstrated that violence and harassment in the workplace is a serious and growing problem. The industries studied face specific concerns and challenges such as violence against workers from patients, clients, residents, family members, and work colleagues in the healthcare sector, violence from students in the education sector, and violence and harassment, including sexual harassment, in the government and emergency services sector and service sector.

Through this research, several gaps in addressing workplace violence and harassment were identified:

  • A lack of practical guidance, adequate infrastructure, and staff resources, especially in smaller organizations;
  • A lack of sector-specific guidance on workplace violence and harassment program components;
  • A need for proactive leadership and accountability structures within organizations;
  • A need for leadership at all system levels across sectors; and
  • The requirement for a positive and supportive organizational culture where workers are consulted and participate in prevention efforts.

Research and current workplace practices reveal that a comprehensive approach (written policies, risk assessments, hazard recognition and control measures, and training) to prevent and mitigate violence and harassment, recognizing the challenges specific to each sector, is effective and essential.