Fighting harassment and sexual violence in the workplace (Bill 42) | commendable measures and an unfortunate lack of proactivity
February 08, 2024
Longueuil – As a parliamentary committee today begins the clause-by-clause review of Bill 42 (An Act to prevent and fight psychological harassment and sexual violence in the workplace), the APTS welcomes the government’s intention to improve victims’ journey through a tangle of administrative recourses to achieve redress and be given the assurance that their workplace is free of sexual violence. However, the APTS regrets that lawmakers have not ensured greater proactivity in providing support for victims.
The APTS is glad to see the addition of a presumption regarding injuries resulting from sexual violence, as well as the extension of the time limit for filing a claim with the CNESST (Québec’s Commission on standards, equity, and occupational health and safety). “This is a big step forward,” said APTS president Robert Comeau. “Reversing the burden of proof, by putting it on the employer instead of the victim, ensures the removal of a discouraging element from an already difficult situation for anyone who wants to make a denunciation.” The APTS also welcomes the CNESST’s new regulatory power to establish a regulation identifying measures that will prevent or end situations involving sexual violence. However, it is crucial that this regulation be developed quickly, and with the help of experts, in order to ensure choice of the best ways of taking charge of risk, providing training, and sharing information appropriately in the workplace.
Going beyond measures to define how claims are handled and to encourage victims to file them, the APTS would have liked to see more measures to help victims throughout the process. Almost no such elements are found in the bill. For instance, the APTS is sorry to see that Bill 42 does not implement the Cox report’s recommendation to change the Occupational Health and Safety Act in order to enable a CNESST inspector to order an investigation of sexual harassment claims that would be carried out by a third party at the employer’s expense. Amending the Labour Standards Act to give victims of intimate partner violence ten days of paid leave is another request that has gone unheeded even though it has often been put forward by the APTS and other organizations.
The need to change mentalities
Legislative changes are not the only issue: mentalities, too, must change. After all, women in 2024 are still subject to forms of sexual violence that make the workplace toxic and may harm or destroy their career or their health. Here, the CNESST will play a crucial role, and the APTS has pointed out how important it is for the Commission to promote changes in organizational culture – in its administrative processes, among others – and to do so in a transparent way. The APTS deplores the CNESST’s lack of transparency about any administrative measures set up to ensure, among other things, that all parties are trained in prevention, that the general public is kept informed, and that greater fluidity and sharing is established between the various forms of expertise available in the CNESST’s various branches. “If we want to encourage people to denounce indefensible acts, and to restore trust, then listening and providing support are the first steps we need to take,” said APTS vice-president Sandra Etienne. “If we don’t do that, we’ll always be one step behind in the fight against harassment, and specifically sexual harassment, in the workplace.”
The APTS (Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux) represents more than 65,000 members who play a key role in ensuring that health and social services institutions run smoothly. Our members provide a wide range of services for all Quebecers, including diagnostic, rehabilitation, nutrition, psychosocial intervention, clinical support, and prevention services.