‘Harassment’, ‘bullying’, ‘poisoned or hostile work environment’ are terms everybody is familiar with in today’s workplace.
Legislative mechanisms have now been in place for more than 20 years bringing needed attention to this sort of debilitating workplace behavior. There is no manager who can say ‘I didn’t know’. With the amendments to the Ontario Health and Safety Act in 2010 (Bill 168) in which very employer in Ontario must post a policy and inform employees with respect to workplace violence and harassment, employees are even more aware of what behaviour is no longer to be tolerated in the workplace.
Awareness of the Harassment Policy has given rise to a new kind of grievance procedure.
In the face of a formal harassment complaint, the employer can not afford to be casual in conducting an investigation.
If the dispute cannot be mediated informally the employer must resort to a more formal investigation process. While the employer is responsible for the ongoing management of the workplace and remains seized with responsibility for deciding what action is to be taken as a consequence of a complaint, conducting a proper investigation into the allegations requires training, objectivity and rigour.
Organizations of certain size and capability may conduct their own investigations but lacking that capability, or to assure greater objectivity, the employer should engage an experienced person to conduct an investigation on behalf of the employer. The investigator makes a report of his/her findings to the employer’s administrative authority for consideration and action.
AFS Consulting, Doug Jordan Principal, has been involved in assisting organizations in harassment complaints and investigations for more than 20 years. He took a 3-day harassment investigation course offered by Canada School of Public Service when harassment regulations were in their infancy. He has assisted managers in many complex cases. He has conducted a number of informal investigations and mediated resolutions between parties in conflict (e.g., Entrust, National Research Council). Recently he conducted a complex investigation on behalf of the President of a small NGO (Ontario incorporated but federally funded) involving six complainants and the Executive Director under OHSA Part III.
When a complaint has been filed against a manager under the “Harassment in the Workplace Policy” his or her career will probably never be the same.
The Manager is almost powerless responding to this kind of grievance and carries with him/her the stigma of sexual harassment even where none is present. Worse, neither Human Resources nor the line management are comfortable giving the manager support, for fear of being seen to show favouritism.
The manager needs support and advice in a most difficult period but has virtually no one to turn to; there is no Union representative for the manager. Colleagues, even friends, become uncomfortable. Many managers will seek out legal counsel, thus amplifying an already sensitive situation.
That’s where AFS Consulting can help: To minimize the damage already done and try to help the manager avoid exacerbating an already difficult situation.
The level of support has ranged from:
- encouraging the manager to take perspective
- coaching them in handling staff and colleagues during an awkward time
- helping them cope with unfamiliar circumstances of an investigation
- identifying how their behaviour might be compromising their effectiveness as executives
- and generally acting as a sounding board for their fears, apprehension and hurt.
Assistance to Managers in Harassment Complaints may lead to a more complete program of feedback to the manager and subsequent management/development/coaching relationship.