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Workplace Harassment and Violence and Long-term Care Workers

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) represents 25,000 long-term care workers across the province. A recent survey commissioned by CUPE of over 1,000 long-term care workers, including personal support workers and registered practical nurses, revealed some startling figures:

  •  nearly 50% of those polled experience hitting or pushing on a daily or weekly basis,
  • 63% have experienced sexual harassment at least once on the job,
  • 43% have experienced sexual assault, and
  • 65% said they considered quitting their jobs because of the stress associated with workplace violence.

Survey participants cited under-staffing and an increased workload for long-term care workers as the cause of the workplace violence. 75% of participants also believe that residents in long-term care homes are not receiving adequate care as a result.

While these high rates of violence are alarming, what’s more alarming is that more than half of participants have not filed a formal complaint with their employers. The main reasons for not reporting incidents of violence of long-term care workers, include:

  • the normalization of violence and harassment for long-term care workers (it’s “part of the job”);
  • employees are not supported by their employers;
  • fear of speaking out; and
  • fear of victim-blaming.

Many people fear that the issue of violence for long-term care workers will not get better. The Ontario government recently announced its health care reform plans which includes a commitment to adding 15,000 long-term care beds in five years and 30,000 long-term care bed in ten years. However, no corresponding announcement has been made regarding addressing these high rates of violence and harassment in the workplace and the low reporting rates for long-term care workers.

While the Occupational Health and Safety Act sets out specific provisions relating to workplace violence and harassment, including reporting protections, it appears that long-term care workers are still too afraid to speak up or do not feel supported by their employers.

It is very difficult to address workplace issues and affect positive change without knowing that an issue exists. A lesson learned from this survey is that care must be taken, not only to ensure adequate staffing, but also to encourage reporting of incidents. You can do so by:

  • educating and training staff with respect to their rights, responsibilities and reporting requirements, as well as your policies;
  • encouraging staff to come forward and report incidents of violence, harassment and assault;
  • promptly investigating all complaints and incidents of workplace violence and harassment so that employees can trust that their complaints will be taken seriously; and
  • protecting workers from retaliation for filing workplace complains.

Contact our team if you need any assistance to address the hazards in your workplace, from educating employees to investigating complaints, we can help.