Harassment of Male and Female Groups in Hospitals in Canada


Safe and comfortable workplace environment is paramount in improving the productivity of employees and wellbeing of everybody. Any form of actions or acts that might intimidate or affects people at the workplace can therefore, reduce productivity and performance of individuals. In healthcare settings or hospitals, safe and comfortable working environment is necessary for delivery of services and optimal performance of medical personnel. Good relationships among colleagues in hospitals are also indispensable in decision making process. Workplace harassment has been a concern not only reported in health care settings, but also in other sectors of the workforce.  This paper explores harassment of males and females in Canadian hospitals and examines this as a health promotion problem in the health sector population in Canada.

Harassment of gender in Hospitals

According to Ontario Human Rights Commission, “harassment connotes actions that are not welcome or should be known to be unwelcome” (Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2012).  Other literature  define harassment as  any conduct based on age, disability, HIV status, domestic circumstances,religion,language ,color ,trade union, political affiliation association with minority property, birth or other status ,which is unwanted as it  affects the dignity of men and women at work  (Wi, 2009). Workplace harassment in healthcare settings has been reported as a widespread problem in most Canadian hospitals. Healthcare professional such as nurses, general practitioners, and other medical staff, experience harassment in Canadian.  Harassment of males and females in hospitals can take many forms such as physical, psychological and sexual harassment, one-off incident or subsequent and recurrent patterns of behaviors and among colleagues, between superiors and subordinates in health or among third parties (patients and visitors).

Causes of Gender harassment in Hospitals

Sexual harassment refers to “any form of sexual activity, which makes a person or the victim to feel or appear uncomfortable” (Roach, 2010).  The types of sexual harassments that female experience in hospital settings include gender harassment, unwanted sexual attention, sexual remarks and sexual coercion. Sexual harassment is the most common form of harassment in Canadian hospitals and it is often perpetrated by male patients and co-workers. The forms of sexual harassment that can be directed to either gender in hospital settings include unwelcome physical contact, inappropriate conversation with sexual content, whistling or inappropriate staring .Also giving  inappropriate gifts, offensive jokes or comments of a sexual nature, posting pictures of a sexual nature in hospital settings especially in offices, comments about the physical characteristics of an individual and sexually suggestive acts can be considered as harassment (New Brunswick Human Rights Act, 2011). Sexual harassment in hospitals also   entails proposition of physical intimacy, demands for dates or sexual favors and offending remarks about a specific gender. Nurses experience sexual harassment from patients and colleagues or from medical personnel from higher authorities, that is, sexual harassment can be done by males with female victims, by females with male victims or same-sex sexual harassment (Roach, 2010).

Women have borne the brunt of sexual harassment because they have traditionally occupied a lower status in the society particular in the workforce. The same is replicated in hospital settings in Canada, where most victims of sexual harassment have been women. Both male and female nurses and other medical staff experience harassment in Canadian health care settings although the level of endurance is different from either gender. Female nurses are likely to endure harassment from their colleagues or patients for a long term before necessarily taking a further step. This involves reporting the matter and preventing the occurrence of the same or other form of harassment.

Harassment by patients is common among nurses and night shift workers. Nurses are more likely to face harassment from patients and visitors in hospital settings or from fellow colleagues or their superiors that have higher ranks. Similarly “harassment by colleagues is often directed towards women in authority positions and women with financial worries or recent domestic violence” (Libbus & Bowman, 1994).Sexual coercion is majorly perpetrated by male colleagues and senior supervisors.  Health statistics and research have revealed that close to 90 percent of women health professionals working in hospitals are sexually harassed in related to 10 percent of male health professionals (Roach, 2010).

Effects of Harassment in Hospital

Harassment in hospital settings has the potential of affecting nursing performance and productivity.  Male and female harassment in hospitals lowers the morale of nurses and other medical personnel. This reducing the capacity to deliver and discharge their duties in more efficient ways without any fear. Harassment may be traumatic, and if the health care professionals who are the victims to get counseling services, they can suffer from stress and long-term affects that are related to stress disorders. Act of harassment in hospital settings may lead or result in “increased absenteeism, greater staff turnover, decreased morale and reduced worker productivity” (International Labor Organization, 2000).

Future Directives and Education Plan

Nursing managers and executives in Canadian hospital must identify and eliminate any form of harassment that is directed to either gender. This must be done to improve and sustain nursing performance and productivity. In addition, nursing managers and executives should endeavor to create a good working environment and culture that can discourage any form of harassment in hospital settings and to foster good behaviors among patients, nurses and staff in hospital settings. Hospital management should take responsibility of ensuring that working environments in hospitals are free and zero tolerant to uncouth conduct and behaviors that constitute harassment of gender.

The hospital Management has the responsibility to empower its work force by sensitizing them on their rights in the hospital working environment. Training sessions should be organized to across all hospitals in the Canadian community to ensure that they are well versed with their surroundings.

The formulation and development of harassment policy and procedure would be central and appropriate. Such policies and procedure can educate and enlighten employees, staff and patients on harassment and they can also help in dealing with harassment cases and allegations in more appropriate ways. According to the Human Rights Commission guidelines, employers can be held accountable for the conduct of their employees if they did not act in ways that could protect occurrence of harassment in the workplace (New Brunswick Human Rights Act, 2011). In the same line, the guidelines also cover hospitals in Canada and hence hospital management, and more so managers and executives in Canadian hospitals.

The law is clear on matters pertaining to workplace harassment, and hence harassment of males and females in healthcare settings in Canada is not an exception. The role of protecting the employees’ legal rights to healthy and safe workplace environment that is free from harassment lies squarely on employers. In respect to human rights and occupational health policies and Legislations, “employers normally bear much of the burden and liability for any act of harassment conducted at the workplace” (Hart, 2009).  Various Canadian jurisdictions have enacted human rights laws that are aimed at prohibiting forms of harassment at workplaces.  For example, the federal government, Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario has developed laws and Legislations that prohibit workplace harassment (Pellicciotti, 1996). Harassment of males and females in health care settings in Canada can be prevented through arbitration of cases where there is proof of harassment.


Cases of harassment of male and female in healthcare settings in Canada have been reported. Most of the harassment cases involve health professionals and their colleagues, with their superior supervisors and with patients with the dominant form of harassment being sexual harassment.  Harassment of male and female health professionals in healthcare facilities has serious detrimental effects, and it may impact negatively on the productivity and performance, and it can further lead to absenteeism, greater staff turnover, decreased morale and stress.  Although there are laws and regulations in Canada that prohibit workplace harassment, the sole responsibility lies with employers and hence health care supervisors and executives should ensure that health facilities are free from harassment.  Federal and Provincial government is responsible for the administration of the Canadian Human Rights Act which encompasses and deals with workplace harassment issues.

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