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Audit shows harassment is an issue for many city employees

Whether an organization is big or small, workers and employers both have rights and responsibilities to ensure a safe and legal working environment. Like many private employees, public servants can face harassment or discrimination in the workplace and may face challenges reporting such issues. This topic has made headlines in Edmonton, Alberta, where an internal audit reported that nearly one-fifth of city employees had experienced harassment.

The high figure showing how many city employees allegedly experienced harassment comes from a 2016 employee engagement survey. The survey was taken by 72 percent of city employees. In the survey, 19 percent of employees said they had experienced harassment, and 11 percent of employees reported that they had experienced discrimination. Of those who had experienced discrimination, only 36 percent said they had reported the behaviour.

An auditor released the internal review of the Alberta city's internal complaint system on Thursday, Nov. 16. The human resources system for reporting abuse is currently not confidential and allows the accused to review what is written regardless of their working relationship. This can make employees fear retribution or worry that nothing will be done to help. This is especially true if the abuser is a direct supervisor and there is no material evidence to support harassment claims.

The auditor has made recommendations on how the human resources system should be changed to make it easier for harassment victims to report abuse. While workplace policies such as those at the city of Edmonton can often limit victims' options, there may be legal recourse in certain situations. Those who have experienced harassment or discrimination in the workplace are advised to contact a lawyer to understand their options under Alberta law.

Source: Edmonton Journal, "One-fifth of City of Edmonton employees report harassment at work", Elise Stolte, Nov. 16, 2017

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