At least 29 Sask. rural municipalities don't have legally required harassment policies

At least 29 rural municipalities in Saskatchewan are failing to meet the legal requirement to have workplace harassment policies in place for employees.

'We can't enforce what we don't know,' says Sask. Occupational Health and Safety

The suicide of a worker who said he was bullied brought the issue of bullying at RMs to the fore earlier this year. Dozens of RMs in the province have told CBC they do not have a legally-required harassment policy to protect workers. (Doidam 10/Shutterstock)

At least 29 rural municipalities in Saskatchewan have failed to meet the legal requirement to have workplace harassment policies in place for employees.

CBC News asked hundreds of rural municipalities across Saskatchewan if they have a harassment policy, which is required underSection 36 of the province's Occupational Health and Safety Regulations and the Saskatchewan Employment Act.

The law has been in place since 1996 and applies to every workplace in the province. 

Of the 88 RMs that responded, 29 did not have any form of harassment policy, including 10 that said they were working toward developing one. An additional six said the topic of harassment was addressed in some way through their code of conduct or HR policy.

Six RMs said they do not have a policy because they have never had a need for one.

No incidents, no need for policy, say RMs 

"We are a small municipality and haven't had any issues within this area with council or our staff, so at this time we are not concerned with having a policy," said a response from one RM.

  • Have you been bullied or harassed at a rural or urban municipality? We want to hear your story. Contact the CBC's Alicia Bridges — alicia.bridges@cbc.ca

"This has not come up in this RM as it has never been a concern or issue in the past or present," said another.

"I find in the smaller communities we either don't have that, or everyone knows each other and either will tolerate more or will never say anything to address an issue as to not offend 'your neighbour.'"

If someone doesn't phone in and say 'I've been robbed,' you can hardly blame the police for not acting on it.- Ray Anthony, Saskatchewan Occupational Health and Safety

Other municipalities said a harassment policy was not a priority given their limited resources.

A total of 53 RMs responded to say they do have policies, including one that implemented theirs in the '90s.

There are 296 rural municipalities in Saskatchewan.

Brenda Duhaime with her husband, Robert, pictured at their 35th wedding anniversary, just over a year before Robert took his own life in August 2017. (Brenda Duhaime)

The issue of bullying and rural municipalities came to the fore in Saskatchewan earlier this year, when the Workers' Compensation Board concluded that the suicide of a worker at the RM of Parkdale was the result his employment. The RM denies Robert Duhaime was bullied and has appealed the WCB decision.

The province of Manitoba has launched a series of consultations to address a trend of bullying and harassment on rural municipal councils.

In Saskatchewan, Occupational Health and Safety is responsible for acting on breaches of employment law.

'We can't enforce what we don't know'

Executive director Ray Anthony said it is the responsibility of the employer to know the laws that apply to their workplace and comply with them. Anthony said OHS does not get a significant number of bullying and harassment complaints from RMs. 

He said his office, which covers about 45,000 employers and self-employed workers in the province, cannot investigate every aspect of employment law through random audits. 

"We can't enforce what we don't know. If someone doesn't phone in and say 'I've been robbed,' you can hardly blame the police for not acting on it," Anthony said.

"We're in the same boat — if someone phones in and says [they're] not complying with the law, we'll take steps to ensure that they are and to protect them."

He acknowledged that some RMs have operated without bullying policies since the law was introduced more than 20 years ago.

Workplace inspections usually targeted

OHS has 63 staff to do field inspections of employers around the province. Of those inspections, 75 per cent are targeted based on factors like a high accident rate. Another 25 per cent are "geographical" or at the discretion of the field officers.

Of the 1,800 complaints OHS has received about employers in the past two years, 90 per cent related to psychological health and safety.

Many of the RMs that responded to CBC News saying they do have policies said it was important to have them, and that all employers should have such a policy.

Myrna-Jean Babbings, the administrator at the RM of Enniskillen in southern Saskatchewan, said her RM has had a policy for a number of years.

'We have everything in place'

The RM consulted a lawyer to develop its policy.

She said having a policy is important because it can be difficult for people to make a complaint about councillors or co-workers in a small working environment.  

"Now we have everything in place," said Babbings.

"I'm going to retire Dec. 31 from here and so I have a younger administrator that I've trained, and I just want them to be able to … if there's an issue, they know how to deal with it."

SARM response

The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities had two anti-harassment training sessions planned for the fall of 2018.

SARM has also been encouraging RMs to review their policies, or to make sure they have one in place.

SARM president Ray Orb says his association is working to encourage more RMs to implement or update their policies. (Kathy Fitzpatrick/CBC)

"We've been sending things out and … making sure that municipalities have harassment [policies] — things like a code of conduct, and they have a harassment policy as well," said president Ray Orb earlier this year.

Orb said at the time that the focus on bullying and harassment is not a direct result of the WCB case involving Robert Duhaime and the RM of Parkdale.

The number to report workplace bullying and harassment to OHS is 1-800-567-7233 (1-800-567-SAFE).

Have you been bullied or harassed at a rural or urban municipality? We want to hear your story. Contact the CBC's Alicia Bridges — alicia.bridges@cbc.ca