I experienced sexual harassment by a male co-worker, in 2015, while I was working as a corrections officer at the Nova Institution (a correctional facility for women). The harassment occurred when i was partnered with this-worker to do “walk throughs” of the grounds and periodic “checking-in” of specific areas of the institution. The tool used to register that a check-in had taken place is a long thin shaped wand. My harasser would handle the wand device as though it were a penis, rubbing and jerking it, in a sexual way, next to his groin area. As a 58 year old grandmother, I was very offended by his actions. He would also make crude remarks such as “when i get home tonight I’m really gonna divi it to the wife”. When I reported this to my superiors, I started to get treated differently by my coworkers and supervisors. I started getting accused of things I didn’t do. I went off of work on stress leave because of how badly I was being treated. When I went back to work a few months later, my employer scheduled me to work with my harasser. I was mortified by the way my employer handled my complaint. I eventually came to posses an email that a supervisor sent to another supervisor in which I, my situation, and my harassment grievance was being made fun of. I’ve now been off of work since 2017.
Shortly after the harassment started, I contacted the HR reps for the organization I worked for. Occupational Conflict Management in Moncton said that their harassment policy does not force accused harassers to participate in any conflict resolution proceedings. They said that participation in the proceedings was volunteer and that my harasser refused to participate. I letter learned that this is standard in most workplace harassment policies. The harasser is not made to participate if he doesn’t feel like it. At the start of this, I did consider going to my union (UCCO) but i was apprehensive because the president of my local was married to one of the supervisors who was now ostracizing me. I knew that I wouldn’t have any luck approaching my union for help given that conflict of interest. I eventually went above my local president to a union advisor who said to me: “Do you really want to do this and have this hanging over your head during the last two years of your employment??”. I was discouraged from doing the right thing. I eventually retracted my grievance because I realized my union was not going to give me proper representation.
I wasn’t aware that I could file a Duty of Fair Representation complaint with the NS labour Board, unfortunately. My union kept that information from me.
When I contacted the Canadian Human Rights Commission (federal employees have to use the federal HRC), they refused to let me file a complaint or even register a complaint because they said I needed to exhaust my grievance process with my union. We now know that this is untrue, and that it is a common thing that Human Rights Commissions say to people, causing them to run out the limitations period for filing a complaint with them when they eventually do go back after exhausting the so called process with their union.
The lack of support by my employers, managers, and middle managers was incredibly troubling. I thought it was their job to support workers who had experienced sexual harassment. Instead many of them joined in with their own harassing behaviour and ostracizing. I was so devastated by what was happening that I came very close to taking my own life, several times. I felt that way for a very long time. I was so messed up I couldn’t see the point in living anymore.