Every year in Quebec, hundreds of people, mostly young women, are victims of sexual violence in the course of their work.

To obtain justice, they must mobilize existing remedies in labor law, which are ill-suited to the particularities of sexual violence and do not meet the needs of victims. Following the example of the reforms made in criminal law and the Specialized Court recently set up in criminal law in Quebec, there is an urgent need to reform labor law to better protect victims of sexual violence.

Appointed by the Minister of Labor in February 2022, the Committee responsible for analyzing appeals for sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace examined nearly 700 files at the Standards, Equity, occupational health and safety (CNESST), i.e. 477 claims for employment injury (2017-2021), 125 complaints for psychological harassment of a sexual nature (2021) and 77 requests for intervention by the CNESST in matters of prevention of sexual violence (2016-2022).

At the end of the analysis of these files, we made findings that are as appalling as they are shocking. First, in terms of proof, the CNESST sometimes imposes greater requirements than in criminal law for victims who file a claim for an employment injury. Secondly, certain settlements of complaints for psychological harassment of a sexual nature involve the payment of derisory amounts to minor victims who nevertheless allege serious facts. Third, the CNESST’s Prevention Division sometimes ends its intervention when the victim leaves his job, leaving harassers and aggressors to continue to operate with impunity in the workplace.

The Committee’s report1 therefore makes 82 recommendations for reforming labor law, including the establishment of a specialized division on sexual violence within the Administrative Labor Tribunal (TAT). To prevent myths and stereotypes from influencing their assessment of the credibility of victims, the judges of the TAT must, like those of the Court of Québec and those appointed by the federal government, benefit from training in matters of sexual violence.

Currently, this is not the case. To illustrate, in matters of sexual assault, late reporting is frequent. While there is no time limit for filing a claim under the criminal injuries compensation system, if the assault occurs in the course of work, the victim only has six months to claim compensation from the CNESST. Such iniquities are intolerable.

It is time for labor law to compel employers to prevent sexual violence in the workplace, and if it does occur, the law – including labor law – should provide an appropriate remedy for victims.

People who are victims of sexual violence at work deserve better. The government must embark on the path of legislative reform. Quebec must give itself the means to act.