A Leaders' Role in Preventing Workplace Sexual Violence

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Facts, Roles + Responsibilities

There are numerous university policies, procedures and collective agreements that seek to guide behaviour and provide the expectation of shared community responsibility for a psychologically healthy and safe work environment.

"All representatives of the University of Alberta shall maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct, in which their actions and behaviours uphold the principles of integrity, respect and accountability, supported by awareness of and compliance with relevant University policies and procedures, staff agreements, government legislation and relevant professional standards."

Ethical Conduct and Safe Disclosure Policy

Leaders play a unique role in shaping workplace culture. Research suggests that it is the workplace culture that best predicts sexual violence. Leaders who lead with integrity, self-awareness and empathy can have a significant impact on reducing violence on campus. When leaders take sexual violence seriously, so will their faculty and staff.

In the absence of a formal definition for leaders and in the context of discussing sexual violence in the workplace, a leader is defined as anyone who has formal or informal oversight or authority over the work/study of another faculty, staff or student. This can include but is not limited to; executive leadership, Deans, Chairs, managers, supervisors, researchers, principle investigators and instructors.

Every member of the university community has a right to learn and work in an environment free of sexual harassment and violence. Every member of the university community has a responsibility to contribute toward such an environment.

Sexual violence is one of the most underreported events that individuals experience. In reality, the statistics collected in Canada on workplace sexual harassment is only a small indication of the problem in the workplace. Many instances of sexual violence in the workplace remain unreported due to an imbalance of power; fear of reprisal, fear of not being believed, fear of inaction and fear of losing their job.

The documented facts:

The Occupational Health and Safety Act and Alberta Human Rights Act  place a positive, proactive duty on the employer to recognize and deal with employees who engage in workplace violence. Employers can and have been held liable for ignoring cases of workplace violence.

While the goal for all supervisors, managers and leaders should be to create a safe climate, raise awareness and provide education to prevent acts of sexual violence in the workplace from even happening, it is equally important to be aware of what your roles and responsibilities are once you hear of an act of sexual violence in the workplace.

As people leaders, faculties, departments and work units should monitor their workplace for concerning behavior, take all disclosures seriously and treat them equally. Additionally, all complaints should be treated with the utmost confidentiality to ensure there is no retaliation following a disclosure. Knowing how to receive a disclosure is essential.

Your Responsibility

Culture change requires an ongoing commitment. Including topics on maintaining a healthy workplace such as sexual violence, into meetings agendas and conversations as well as actively encouraging faculty, staff and other leaders to avail themselves of education an training opportunities is a positive, preventative step.

In roles where someone has authority or power over another, it is expected that that sense of responsibility and obligation for the safety of others is paramount in the actions that are taken.

Create Culture

Create a workplace culture of care and concern, one that is psychologically safe where people are encouraged to raise issues and concerns.


Create ongoing opportunities to raise awareness, educate and discuss difficult topics. Encourage faculty and staff members to access available training opportunities to ensure they are prepared to receive workplace disclosures and know the resources available. (i.e. sexual violence, domestic abuse, psychological safety)


Listen, believe, ask how you can help and explore options.


If you become aware of instances of sexual violence in the workplace, you are responsible for promptly reporting the incident as per the Violence Prevention Appendix to our Hazard Identification, Assessment and Control Procedure .

Leaders have an obligation to both seek guidance and act once you become aware of workplace sexual violence. You are responsible for following the Responding to a Disclosure of Sexual Violence process and for contacting Faculty Relations or Human Resources, Health, Safety and Environment (HR Partnerships) for guidance if the disclosure involves faculty or staff. You can seek guidance and act while maintaining confidentiality to the individual who made the disclosure, if that is their wish.

All faculty and staff have a responsibility to act once they are made aware of workplace violence.

Sexual violence complaints about students should be directed to dosdean@ualberta.ca.

Related Policies, Procedures + Governance Documents