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  5. Workplace Harassment Pocket Guide
  6. Section 4: Background information on harassment
  1. Home
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  4. Human Rights Issues
  5. Workplace Harassment Pocket Guide
  6. Section 4: Background information on harassment
UNIFOR Aug26-3797

This section answers some frequently asked questions about the investigation process.

WHO INVESTIGATES INCIDENTS OF HARASSMENT?

The person who takes the complaint may or may not be the person who carries out the investigation. One or more of the following people may conduct the investigation:

  •  joint “Building Respectful Workplace” committees
  • shop steward or committee person
  • local unit chairperson
  • local union president
  • workplace equity representative
  • workplace women’s advocate
  • one or more appointed workplace harassment investigators
  • health and safety representatives*
  • any combination of the above

Ideally, someone who has been trained to deal with harassment complaints conducts the investigation. In many workplaces we have successfully bargained for workplace harassment investigator training. Contact your Unifor National Representative or the Unifor Human Rights Department for details.

*In cases where we are using health and safety legislation to pursue a harassment or bullying complaint, health and safety representatives and those who have traditionally handled the investigation and resolution of harassment and violence should meet to review how to best proceed, drawing on each-others’ experience and strengths. Together they should review the legislation and discuss how to make the most of health and safety tools to ensure the whole membership is safe from harassment and violence.

In many instances management may reserve (and exercise!) the right to question their employees and take part in either a joint investigation or a separate investigation. Our goal is to insist on a joint investigation to ensure our members are best represented.

WHO INVESTIGATES IF A JOINT WORKPLACE HARASSMENT POLICY HAS BEEN NEGOTIATED?

If you have negotiated a joint workplace harassment policy, and if that policy indicates that management plays a joint role in investigations, then follow the guidelines in your agreement for direction on how to proceed. See the flowchart on page 93 for a sample workplace harassment joint process.

Even if you do have a joint policy in place, this booklet answers a number of questions and provides important general guidelines that you can make use of as an investigator.

WORKPLACE EQUITY REPRESENTATIVES

Workplace equity representatives are negotiated positions. The role of the equity representative is to:

  • promote equity in the workplace
  • work with community outreach initiatives
  • coordinate education efforts
  • assist with anti-harassment work
  • work with leadership and investigators to resolve difficult human rights complaints

WOMEN’S ADVOCATES

Sometimes women need to discuss matters such as violence or abuse at home, or workplace harassment, with another woman. They may need help finding out about community resources to deal with these and other issues. Women’s advocates are women employment equity representatives who, besides their regular duties, are specially trained to assist women who need referrals. Women’s advocates are provided with a confidential phone line and office space.

If appropriate, explain the role of women’s advocates to the complainant, and offer to set up a time for them to meet.

In workplaces where Unifor has not negotiated for women’s advocates or workplace equity representatives, union leadership is required to take on this role. To learn more about negotiating a women’s advocate in your workplace, see www.unifor.org or contact women@unifor.org.

WHAT IF THE ALLEGED HARASSER IS A UNION MEMBER?

Your role is to provide due process for both the complainant and the alleged harasser. You need to conduct a full and fair investigation and stop harassment in the workplace. There’s no question that this is an extremely difficult balancing act. Don’t prejudge anyone’s actions without knowing the facts. At the same time, don’t defend actions, behaviour or attitudes that are racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist (discriminatory against people with disabilities), etc.

WHAT IF THE ALLEGED HARASSER IS A CUSTOMER, DELIVERY PERSON, CONSULTANT OR MEMBER OF ANOTHER BARGAINING UNIT?

The union should file a grievance against the employer for failing to provide a harassment-free work environment. Some joint workplace policies actually specify that you can make a complaint about someone who is not a paid employee, like a customer or delivery person. This is especially important for our members who work with the public, with volunteers, or with outside contractors.

WHAT IF THE ALLEGED HARASSER AND THE VICTIM HAVE BEEN (OR ARE) INVOLVED IN AN INTIMATE OR DOMESTIC RELATIONSHIP?

The employer and the union are responsible for investigating and dealing with any harassment or violence that occurs in the workplace. It is not an excuse to say “they’re in a relationship” or “they have a history”, or even “they’re married” – harassment, violence and bullying that occurs in the workplace must be investigated and dealt with.

WHAT IF THE ALLEGED HARASSER IS MANAGEMENT?

If the alleged harasser is part of management, keep the following in mind:

Harassment is about power. If harassment occurs between people where there’s already a power relationship (such as that between supervisor and worker), the odds are really stacked against the worker. In these cases, harassment would usually include a spoken or unspoken threat of discipline or of ‘making life hell’ for the worker if she or he doesn’t comply, or if they complain.

Management’s response is a reflection of their commitment to ending workplace harassment. Management creates the culture of the organization. We must make it crystal clear that they need to take full and immediate action to ensure that management representatives are beyond reproach on this issue.

WHAT IF THE ALLEGED INCIDENT TOOK PLACE AT A UNION EVENT?

The responsibility of creating and preserving a safe and harassment-free environment is a collective one assumed by all Unifor members. Unifor aims to provide leadership in setting standards of behaviour which reflect our commitment to equality.

Unifor will not tolerate any form of harassment, bullying or violence within the union environment, whether it is at the Local, Regional/Québec or National level. Such actions may result in sanctions being taken against a member.

At our founding 2013 Unifor Convention we adopted a Unifor Policy on Harassment at Union Events. A copy of the policy is available on our website at: www.unifor.org. For information on investigating harassment at union events, contact our Human Rights Department at 1-800-268-5763.

WHAT ARE THE TIME LINES FOR THE INVESTIGATION?

You may deal with a workplace harassment concern in a matter of hours. Sometimes it may take a few days, or even weeks, to conduct a fair investigation and resolution. In the best case scenario, the complainant (with the support of the union) confronts the alleged harasser, the harasser apologizes, and the offending behaviour stops. If the complainant is satisfied with the result, then you’ve done your job. Be sure to write up the incident (see General Guidelines for Record-keeping).

The local union president and the unit chairperson must contact the UNIFOR national representative, and if necessary, they will meet with a senior company representative(s) to carry out an investigation. The issue must be handled with confidentiality, and is to be resolved within 10 working days of notifying the unit chairperson and local union president. An extension to the ten day time limit may be granted with written request to the National President’s office. – Excerpt from Unifor Workplace Harassment Policy

The Unifor Workplace Harassment Policy clearly outlines time lines for investigating and resolving workplace harassment complaints; however, if you have negotiated a Joint Workplace Harassment Procedure, these time lines may be different, so check your Collective Agreement.

Grievance policies also have clear time lines for resolution. But time lines don’t come into effect until the complainant has ‘been made aware’ of a violation. Usually people are keenly aware when they have been violated. However, sometimes a worker may have a delayed reaction to an incident or to a series of so-called ‘harmless’ jokes or slurs. Sometimes workers won’t bring a complaint forward until they are certain that no harm can be done to them. Or, if they see the alleged behaviour being directed at someone else they may finally speak up because they want it to stop. In other instances, a worker may not file a complaint until they learn that what is happening to them is against the law, or it violates an employer or union policy. If the union receives a complaint about an incident or incidents that allegedly occurred some time in the past, we should still carry out an investigation.

A full workplace harassment investigation may take more time to resolve than the grievance policy allows for. The union may need to file a general grievance (failure to provide a harassment-free workplace) before the investigation is complete. Or, we may need to negotiate with the employer to waive time lines during the investigation. They may agree to this simply because they want to avoid a full-blown human rights complaint.

WHAT IF THE WORKER DOESN’T WANT TO FILE A COMPLAINT?

The complainant may need to talk with someone about the alleged harassment, but may not want to lodge a formal complaint. Work with them to try and resolve the issue informally and/or address any concerns they may have about filing a formal complaint. If they still don’t want to proceed, the union must make a judgement call. . .

THE INVESTIGATOR’S ROLE

The investigator can simply write up notes from the discussion and file them for future reference. Encourage the complainant to keep a written journal of what has happened in case they change their mind or the situation changes.

THE UNION’S ROLE

If the alleged harassment is a case of poisoned workplace environment, the union may still decide to file a general grievance (without naming the complainant). We can demand that the employer resolve the issue and provide anti-harassment training for all workers and supervisors.

WHAT IF SOMEONE FILES A MALICIOUS COMPLAINT?

False accusations have been grossly exaggerated by those who refuse to acknowledge the reality of widespread workplace harassment. In the few instances where complaints are found to be trivial, frivolous, vexatious, or made in bad faith, the complainant may be disciplined. The complainant has the right to dispute any discipline.

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