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  5. Workplace Harassment Pocket Guide
  6. Section 3: Tools for resolving workplaces harassment
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  4. Human Rights Issues
  5. Workplace Harassment Pocket Guide
  6. Section 3: Tools for resolving workplaces harassment

This section explains our Unifor Workplace Harassment Policy, as well as other options for dealing with workplace harassment. This section also explains the employer’s responsibility and the union’s responsibility.

UNIFOR’S WORKPLACE HARASSMENT POLICY

At our 2013 founding Convention, Unifor adopted a new Workplace Harassment Policy, as well as an anti harassment policy for union events. These documents reflect the long-standing commitments of both founding unions, CAW and CEP, to preventing harassment and building respectful workplace and union cultures.

You can use the Unifor policy to address workplace harassment fairly and quickly. You may also have language in your collective agreement (or legislative language) that will give you additional strength to respond to workplace harassment. The full text of the Unifor policy is posted on our website (www.unifor.org).

WHY DO WE NEED A WORKPLACE HARASSMENT POLICY?

We need a workplace harassment policy for several reasons:

  • It can be the fastest and simplest way to get the harassment to stop.
  • Management doesn’t always live up to its obligation to provide a harassment-free workplace.
  • It’s the union’s job to hold management accountable.
  • Sometimes a complaint will reveal other problems in the workplace. This can result in widespread changes.
  • We need to be pro-active in creating a harassmentfree environment, and not simply react to management or to situations as they occur.
  • Workplace harassment hurts the union’s solidarity.

WHAT IF WE HAVE NEGOTIATED A JOINT WORKPLACE HARASSMENT POLICY?

Many of our locals have a long history of successfully negotiating joint workplace harassment policies. Today Unifor requires that anti-harassment language be negotiated in all collective agreements. This should include a clear definition of harassment, a complaint procedure with time limits, and at least some basic requirements for training. For example, in many of our workplaces we have negotiated four hour, or eight hour “Building Respectful Workplaces” training for all workers during work hours.

Check your collective agreement if you are unsure about whether or not you have a joint workplace policy. If you have negotiated a joint workplace harassment policy, then use the language in your collective agreement along with the information in this pocket guide as you conduct your investigation.

WHAT IF ALL WE HAVE IS A “NON-DISCRIMINATION CLAUSE” IN OUR AGREEMENT?

All Unifor collective agreements should include a “non-discrimination clause.” You can use this clause to grieve workplace harassment. Use this pocket guide and the Unifor policy to investigate the complaint, then proceed with the normal grievance procedure…

WHAT IF THERE’S NO ANTI-HARASSMENT OR DISCRIMINATION LANGUAGE IN OUR COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT?

Workplace harassment is against the law, and the law still governs the workplace. If your collective agreement doesn’t include a “non-discrimination” clause, or any other anti-harassment language, this does not stop the union from filing a grievance. Anti-discrimination laws in your province or territory (or if your workplace is covered under federal jurisdiction) are considered to be “read into” your collective agreement. That means that even if your agreement doesn’t actually spell out ‘non-discrimination’, it’s understood to be there (think of it as invisible ink in the agreement). Our collective agreements can improve on the language in the law, but can’t weaken it. Management’s duty to provide a harassment-free workplace is part of the law that governs the workplace. Go ahead and follow the Unifor Workplace Harassment Policy and complete the steps outlined in this pocket guide.

Contact the Unifor Human Rights Department to discuss training for workplace harassment investigators as well as membership training (for example, we have a one-day Building Respectful Workplace program that is open to all union members that is delivered through our area schools).

Listed below are some other ‘creative’ ways of pursuing the complaint. But first, a word on jurisdiction.

JURISDICTION: THE LAWS THAT GOVERN THE WORKPLACE

Where you live, and who you work for, determines whether provincial, territorial or federal laws apply in your workplace (this includes labour laws, health and safety laws, and human rights laws). Most workers in Canada are covered under provincial or territorial human rights legislation. However, most workers in the following industries fall under federal jurisdiction:

  • federal public service
  •  Canada Post
  • interprovincial or international transportation (i.e., road, railway, ferry or pipeline)
  • airports and air transportation
  • shipping and navigation
  • businesses on First Nations reserves
  • some crown corporations
  • RCMP, military
  • broadcasting
  • telecommunications
  • banks

HEALTH AND SAFETY LEGISLATION

Health and safety legislation varies by jurisdiction. In some cases health and safety legislation is an important tool for resolving workplace harassment and violence. Thanks to the dedicated lobby efforts by the CAW, CEP, other unions and community advocates, important new amendments and regulations were added to some occupational health and safety legislation in Canada. Generally speaking, the new legislation expressly names harassment and violence as hazards to the health and safety of the worker and it requires employers to take proactive measures to prevent workplace harassment and violence.

The exact legal definition of workplace violence may vary from one jurisdiction, province or territory to another. The federal regulation, for example, says workplace violence means:

“any action, conduct, threat, or gestures of a person toward an employee in their workplace that can reasonably be expected to cause harm, injury or illness to that employee.”

Harassment is a serious occupational hazard for workers. Workers who feel under constant attack, who are physically harassed, whose confidence is undermined, are working in unsafe conditions.

If a worker is being harassed at work, they may be able to use their right to refuse unsafe work under the legislation that applies to the workplace. See page 33 of this pocket guide to find out if “right to refuse based on harassment” is legislated in your jurisdiction.

Some legal decisions now tell us that stress induced by sexual harassment may be covered under worker’s compensation. While these decisions are important, we don’t want to rely on legislation that only kicks in once the worker is seriously injured. The legislation is still unclear and the process is lengthy.

The union has many avenues for addressing harassment. At the end of the day, however, management may simply agree to work with you to resolve the complaint not because of language in the agreement or the legislation, but because no employer wants to go through a potentially lengthy, expensive, and embarrassing human rights complaint against them.

WHAT ABOUT THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION/TRIBUNAL?

When a worker experiences harassment they may first assume that they need to “file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission/Tribunal”. While it is their right to do so, you should inform them of the following:

  • the Commission/Tribunal will most likely insist that the complainant try the workplace procedure first
  • the Commission/Tribunal process may take years to complete
  • the Unifor workplace harassment policy (or the joint workplace harassment policy if you have one in your agreement) will be much more likely to get the behaviour to stop, result in a fair resolution, and be faster.

Encourage the worker to work with you and follow the informal and formal workplace harassment policies outlined in the Unifor policy and/or the joint workplace harassment policy.

If a worker still wants to take their case to the Human Rights Commission/Tribunal, the Unifor Human Rights Department or your Unifor National Representative can provide further information to you and/or the complainant about that process. You will still need to investigate.

WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY IS IT TO RESOLVE HARASSMENT COMPLAINTS?

THE EMPLOYER’S RESPONSIBILITY

The law requires an employer to provide a workplace which is free of harassment. This doesn’t simply mean ‘policing’ the workplace, or only responding to complaints when they occur. Employers need to:

  • have anti-harassment policies and processes in place
  • commit to anti-harassment and human rights training for both management and workers.

Some employers may understand that workplace harassment is disruptive. From their point of view,workplace harassment can cause serious organizational problems (such as absenteeism, decrease in productivity, employee turnover, plus expensive investigations and potential liability).

Other employers understand all too well just how effectively workplace harassment divides workers. They know it can weaken solidarity and union strength. And they understand all too well how much time and energy the union uses to respond to harassment cases – time and energy we can’t use to enforce other areas of the collective agreement.

THE UNION’S RESPONSIBILITY AND OBJECTIVES

When a worker, or a group of workers, harasses another worker, they are working against the basic union principles of solidarity and equality. Harassment creates a climate of intolerance and division among the membership. By eroding our unity, it weakens our position at the bargaining table and on the picket line.

WE ARE COMMITTED TO:
Ensuring a confidential and fair process. It is our job to defend workers’ rights under the collective agreement and to uphold Unifor policy. Stopping the harassment. The ultimate goal is to stop the problem, not to make it worse, or to further isolate the person who makes the complaint. Responding to the complainant’s needs. Any worker who files a harassment complaint has the right to representation. Most workplace harassment complaints can be settled quickly without having to resort to a formal complaint. Holding the employer accountable for a harassment free workplace. As a union we have a legal responsibility to enforce the employer’s obligation to maintain a harassment-free workplace. Educating to prevent further incidents and change the culture of the workplace. Anti-harassment policies and training are key negotiating priorities for our union.

OUR APPROACH AND THEIR APPROACH

Even where the employer has agreed to a joint anti-harassment procedure in the collective agreement, our approach will often differ from theirs. Experience tells us that the employer will likely opt for the quickest, cheapest solution – for example, severe discipline or discharge of a harasser. While discipline or discharge is warranted in some circumstances, the union will want to conduct a full investigation followed by more comprehensive solutions – for example, solutions that include anti-harassment training for all workers.

Workplace harassment will not go away if we don’t address it. It will get worse. The situation will become harder to deal with, and the union may be held responsible under human rights or other legislation.

Some human rights cases that we take on won’t make us ‘popular’ with the membership. However, in other instances, our members appreciate that we are challenging a known harasser. The attitudes that led to the harassment may or may not be widespread in the workplace. And, like everyone else, union leaders can become the targets of racial, sexual, or other forms of harassment – your opinions and action may be attacked.

Through all of this, our job is to represent the members’ complaints or grievances, at the same time as we push for changing attitudes and better working conditions in the workplace.

DOWNLOAD THE GUIDE IN PDF FORMAT

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