GN’s sexual harassment policy isn’t good enough

“It’s hard to see how the current GN policy could deter harassment, mostly because the process operates in secret”

By SPECIAL TO NUNATSIAQ NEWS

MARGARET HOLLIS

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about sexual harassment in the workplace.

The premier of Nunavut has promised a review of the Government of Nunavut’s sexual harassment policy, a good first step.The federal government has a sexual harassment policy too.

But what about employees in places that don’t have that kind of policy? And do those policies actually reduce sexual harassment?

To know if the policies are effective, it would be helpful to have statistics of some kind.

Year by year, how many complaints are made under the policy? How many are resolved? How many people are the subject of several complaints?

The GN policy says a criminal act—that is, sexual assault—is to be referred to the RCMP. How many of those referrals are made yearly?

The GN does not publish this data. It is possible that the data is not even collected, because the GN policy does not require that kind of reporting to a central agency.

We have no idea how many people make complaints, or how many complaints are processed and how many are ignored. The only way to know if a policy is working is by measuring outcomes: statistically, or by following up with participants, or both.

However, it’s hard to see how the current GN policy could deter harassment, mostly because the process operates in secret. (This is very common in sexual harassment policies; it is not unique to the GN.)

Harassment is not treated as a workplace safety problem, but as a private conflict between two people, and the whole process is confidential.

The rest of the workplace never learns that the conduct under review is unacceptable, so there is no way for others to be deterred from it.

This secrecy also works to protect and enable a serial harasser, because prospective victims have no warning—so it is possible the GN policy has the unintended effect of promoting sexual harassment in those cases.

There is also a lot the GN policy does not cover. It uses the word “workplace” repeatedly, but does not define it, permitting the wrong interpretation that the rules do not apply on duty travel or offsite meetings.

The GN policy does not deal with, or even recognize, power inequities. The guide for implementing the policy says: “Sexual harassment does not include a consensual relationship,” but it does not define “consensual.”

A woman who knows she can be fired, given poor performance reviews, or assigned all the rotten tasks if she says “no” may submit, but it is not true consent; she is still being forced.

Finally, the GN policy does not apply to non-employees. Members of the public, and contractors such as translators or cleaners, cannot use the policy to report being harassed or assaulted by a GN employee.

Whether a workplace has a sexual harassment policy or not, any employee can use the human rights tribunal process to complain of workplace harassment, but that is not available to a contractor.

If the conduct amounts to sexual assault, anybody can go to the RCMP.

These processes rarely improve a workplace situation. We can hope that the GN review will result in something better.

For a PDF copy of the GN harassment policy, follow this link.

For a copy of the accompanying guide for GN employees and supervisors, follow this link.

Margaret Hollis is a lawyer who serves Nunavut institutions and businesses, and who writes sexual harassment policies.

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