This section provides you with step-by-step procedures for completing either an informal or formal investigation.
HEARING ABOUT AN ALLEGED HARASSMENT
You may find out about the alleged harassment* by:
- having the complainant talk to you in person, by phone or in writing
- hearing or seeing the behaviour yourself or from your counterpart in management
- hearing about the alleged behaviour from the person who has been accused
- having others who have seen or heard it tell you
- hearing a rumour or receiving an anonymous message about the behaviour
* You must use the terms alleged harasser and alleged harassment until an investigation takes place and, based on the evidence, the incidents are found to have occurred.
INFORMATION YOU NEED TO START AN INVESTIGATION
Each incident is unique. How you proceed will depend on:
- the needs of the person making the complaint
- the nature of the alleged harassment
- the language in your collective agreement
- what jurisdiction you work in (provincial or federal)
- your assessment of management’s response
- your assessment of the local’s support
CHECK YOUR BIAS
Every complaint should be taken as both serious and sincere. The complaint may not make sense to you, it may seem ‘small’ or unusual, but you must reserve judgement until all the facts have been considered. Like everyone else, you carry attitudes, assumptions, stereotypes, and bias. These should not taint the investigation process or outcome. Your job is to find out (as fully as possible) what happened, and make an informed judgement about whether that constitutes harassment. As with any grievance, you need to keep personalities and popularity out of the picture.
DETERMINING THAT THIS IS HARASSMENT
Read through “What is harassment” (page 5) before you continue. This will help you to determine whether it is appropriate to follow the Workplace Harassment Policy.
RIGHT TO REFUSE
Our joint anti-harassment policy model language includes the right to refuse based on harassment. Unifor recommends that all local unions negotiate “right to refuse based on harassment” language into our collective agreements.
In Ontario, Bill 168 (which came into force on June 15, 2010) extends the right to refuse work if a worker has reason to believe that workplace violence is likely to endanger herself or himself. If your workplace is covered under Ontario legislation, you should inform the complainant of their right to refuse work if they believe they are in imminent danger.
For information on health and safety legislation in other jurisdictions that is relevant to workplace harassment and violence see pages 94-100 in this pocket guide. As a union we can take political action to improve right to refuse legislation to ensure it covers situations of harassment and violence.
WHEN TO INVOLVE THE POLICE
Neither the Unifor Workplace Harassment Policy nor any joint workplace policies take the place of police investigations. If the alleged harassment is a serious criminal offence (for example, physical or sexual assault, death threats), strongly encourage the complainant to report the incident to the police. If the individual wants help through this process, offer to help them or help them find support (for example, from a Women’s Advocate, see page 25 or from another workplace representative).
If a criminal investigation does take place, you will still need to conduct a workplace investigation and file a grievance if applicable.
INFORMING THE RIGHT PEOPLE ABOUT THE COMPLAINT
Confidentiality is key to the investigation process. However, there are people who need to know what’s going on. This ensures that the investigator is doing their job, and that the policy is respected.
According to Unifor policy, the incident must be brought to the immediate attention of the unit chairperson and the local union president by the complainant or whomever they have chosen to assist them. If this case involves a union leader (for instance, shop steward, committee person), you need to notify your Unifor National Representative immediately. Together you can determine how the case should proceed, what role you will each play, and who else will be part of the process. If no union leaders are involved in the alleged harassment, you still need to inform your Unifor National Representative at the final stage of the investigation process. They may need to be part of a resolution meeting.
If you don’t have a joint policy, you will need to use your common sense to determine when to talk with your employer. Be practical. In small workplaces you may need to let the employer know you’re investigating a complaint of alleged harassment as soon as you receive the complaint, especially if it’s obvious that the situation is explosive.