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Workplace Investigations regarding Harassment & Bullying

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Workplace InvestigationsWith more and more folks becoming aware of human rights and anti-bullying legislation coming into effect (Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan have passed provincial legislation against bullying and BC now has an advocacy group – http://bullyfreebc.ca) there has been an increase in complaints being brought forward concerning bullying, not only to employers but also to human rights council.

As someone who does workplace investigations, I have had the opportunity to see first-hand how harassment and bullying can impact organizations in terms of lost productivity, decreased morale, deterioration of trust and employee turnover.

I understand why it is more important than ever to investigate complaints promptly and thoroughly, develop policies and educate all employees to ensure that bullying will not be tolerated.

As most of us know, Canadian and Provincial Human Rights laws protect against harassment and sexual harassment for protected groups but as mentioned, complaints are beginning to expand to personal harassment and bullying because while it is recognized that discrimination against protected groups is important, it shouldn’t stop there.

 

  • The first thing we need to think about is treating complaints quickly and efficiently.  The longer we hold off on doing an investigation once a complaint has been brought forward, the worse the situation will get.  This is also something that employers should avoid in the event a complaint does go to a human rights tribunal and they will take a dim view of an organization that doesn’t recognize the importance of a prompt and thorough investigation.
  • We need to take preventative action and communicate clearly that bullying will not be accepted and we need to encourage everyone to come forward if indeed they are being treated poorly.  We need to create a safe environment in which this can occur.
  • One of the first recommendations I make following investigations is to make sure policies are up to date and that there is very clear communication of the policies as well as training for everyone.   We know about school yard bullies and we know how we tell our children to deal with them – it’s no different in the workplace.

Adult bullies, like their schoolyard counterparts, tend to be insecure people with poor or non-existent social skills and little empathy.  They turn this insecurity outwards, finding satisfaction in their ability to attack and diminish the capable people around them. (http://safety-council.org/workplace-safety/bullying-in-the-workplace)

I recently attended a workshop put on by the BC Human Rights Coalition and the thing that really stood out for me was the increase in complaints with respect to harassment.  It was also very clear that much of the way the investigation is handled and how quickly it is handled has an impact on how the rulings were made.

Many of the complaints that came forward were concerning a supervisor or a manager that was harassing employees; but there has been an increase in complaints about one employee to another.
Personal harassment and bullying is reaching media attention as well, and possibly this has a part to play in terms of increases in complaints.  There is also a great deal of information on the Internet about the topic – so again – education that is helping people in understanding what bullying looks like.

If you have complaints concerning harassment or bullying – be sure to investigate.  This does not mean that it can’t be done internally or informally; however, remember that there are external resources available for this purpose and it doesn’t always need to be done by lawyers.

Be sure that you use trained workplace investigators and be sure that you act promptly.  You can also use external workplace investigators to help you in the development of policies and education, if required.

Harassment and bullying is not O.K. and turning a blind eye to it (in other words, condoning the behaviour) will eventually cost your organization far more than any investigation, education or development of policies ever will.
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