Inappropriate or discriminatory sexualized behavior in the workplace is “commonplace” and requires major legislative reform, concludes a panel of independent experts in a landmark report released Friday morning. The Minister of Labor, Jean Boulet, claims to take the matter very seriously and promises to follow up on it.

“These are certainly key recommendations that warrant an in-depth analysis,” commented Minister Boulet in a telephone interview with La Presse.

Mr. Boulet, who was a labor lawyer before entering politics, said he was “stunned” by the data exposed in the nearly 350-page document.

In Quebec, nearly one in two people (49%) have observed or experienced “inappropriate sexualized or discriminatory behavior in the workplace” in the past year, report the authors, who had Quebec data extracted from a survey conducted by Statistics Canada in 2020. Women were twice as likely as men to report having experienced such behaviors (26% and 13% respectively). These behaviors are therefore “commonplace in Quebec workplaces”, write the researchers in support of their 82 recommendations.

“I’m not ruling anything out at this point,” said the minister, who “assures that it won’t be shelved.”

“The profoundly serious and human nature of this phenomenon in the workplace requires diligence on my part,” said Mr. Boulet, adding that his teams “are in analysis”.

“It won’t be a matter of years, it’s a matter of the next few months. »

This is one of the follow-up given to the Transpartisan Committee on Support for Victims of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, which brought together MNAs from the four parties represented in the National Assembly. Victims in the workplace are faced with a “puzzling” diversity of recourses, which “can even hinder access to justice”, underlined the first report submitted to this cross-party committee at the end of 2020. It would therefore be necessary to mandate a new working group to examine the treatment of this violence, had recommended the authors. This is what Minister Boulet did in January 2022.

A specialized sexual violence division, in the spirit of the new Specialized Court for sexual violence and domestic violence, should be created at the Administrative Labor Tribunal (TAT). The Specialized Court, created by the Minister of Justice Simon Jolin-Barrette in the fall of 2021, aims to improve support and support for victims in criminal law matters, but it does not solve labor law problems.

In the workplace, victims “are faced with a complex and fragmented legal framework”, to the point that “the processing of their claim can constitute a process of secondary victimization”, deplores the committee made up of three university professors. These victims may “be subject to evidentiary requirements that exceed even those of the criminal law”, denounce the authors.

A “minimal proportion” of victims make “a formal report,” resulting in “an under-representation of sexual harassment and assault situations,” the report explains.

In construction, for example, sexual harassment is the form of harassment and intimidation most often experienced by women. But they, like their male colleagues, “come to normalize situations that would be deemed unacceptable in other industrial sectors,” found the Commission de la construction du Québec. Fear of reprisals and difficulties in accessing remedies also contribute to under-reporting in this sector.

Moreover, almost all non-unionized workers file a complaint after leaving their job. Beyond the reparations granted to them, it is necessary “to ensure that the perpetrators of the harassment cannot make other victims”, argue the authors.

The Commission for Standards, Equity, Health and Safety at Work (CNESST) should treat cases of psychological harassment of a sexual nature as a priority, and offer the complainant to accompany him during mediation, recommends the report.

The TAT should also be able to order a CNESST review in the workplace concerned, even if the victim is no longer there. Legal presumptions should also be created in favor of the victims so that, for example, an illness occurring after sexual violence at work is presumed to be an employment injury. Measures to end the “undercompensation” of workers under the age of 18 who are still in school are also recommended.

The report Putting an end to sexual harassment in the workplace: empowering ourselves to act, by professors Rachel Cox (UQAM), Dalia Gesualdi-Fecteau (Université de Montréal) and Anne-Marie Laflamme (Université Laval), will be released on the Ministry of Labor website.