The guidelines listed below will help you to conduct fair and complete investigations into cases of workplace harassment.
GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR CONDUCTING INTERVIEWS
PREPARE IN ADVANCE.
- Think through the purpose of the interview.
- Think about how long the interview might take and make sure that you won’t be interrupted (for example, by telephone calls).
- Be sure that you choose an interview space that is both private, and accessible to people with disabilities.
- Have a copy of the Unifor harassment policy with you to give to the person being interviewed.
- Have paper, pens, tissue and water available.
- Be prepared to refer the complainant to community support/counseling services if they want help.
OPEN THE INTERVIEW
Welcome the individual, introduce yourself. Explain that your role is to investigate and to uphold the union’s policy on workplace harassment.
- If the person you are interviewing is from an equity seeking group, honour their request to have a coworker present as a supporter (supporters must not interfere in the interview process).
- Invite honest and frank conversation.
- Reassure the interviewee by explaining the process of investigation.
- Emphasize the importance of keeping the investigation confidential, and state your commitment to confidentiality.
- Listen to their account of the problem.
- Take notes.
DURING THE INTERVIEW.
- Guide the interview with open-ended questions (who, what, why, when, where, how), not leading questions.
- Ask consistent questions of each witness.
- Recognize your own bias and do not let it enter into the interview.
- Do not add to any hostility.
- Try to bring some direction and calm to the (already emotional) situation.
- Focus on the situation at hand, not on your general knowledge about human rights.
- Only discuss relevant issues.
- Re-state information so that they can correct or clarify your understanding.
- Listen actively but also allow silence.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Don’t be judgemental.
CONCLUDE THE INTERVIEW.
- Summarize what you have heard them say.
- Ask them to read over their statement and sign it.
- Invite them to return if needed.
- Thank them for coming.
- Read over your own notes, adding what’s missing (see General Guidelines for Record-keeping).
- Go on to the next step in the investigation (outlined in this pocket guide and your collective agreement if you have a joint policy).
- Be available for follow-up with interviewees.
- Maintain confidentiality.
GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR RECORD-KEEPING
- Start taking notes as soon as you hear about the complaint. Write down what the complaint is about and when it first came to your attention. You should also write down the date that it was brought to management’s attention.
- Hand write notes during the interviews. Write down all factual information (including dates, times, and places). If something seems especially important to the person you’re interviewing, write it down. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you, it could be important. If you can record someone’s actual words, do so. Put it in quotation marks.
- Your notes should stay focused on descriptions of what allegedly happened. They should be specific. Avoid writing down general or sweeping statements and opinions (yours or anyone else’s).
- Use your notes to keep track of all the steps that are taken during the investigation. For example, write down the date, time, and place that you initially set up an interview with the alleged harasser.
- Keep a record of everyone’s name who is mentioned during the investigation – you may need to interview them later as witnesses.
- If you are working with another investigator, one of you should focus on taking notes during the interviews. After each interview, you should both re-read the notes, and initial them.
- Review your notes regularly. Include reminders for yourself in your notes. If your notes don’t make sense, it means you have more follow-up work to do. Highlight any missing pieces and clarify inconsistencies. Write summaries after each interview, but keep your original notes.
- Your notes are mainly for you – to help you keep track and keep on track. But they could be used in a formal proceeding. They will show that the union responded to the complaint and conducted a full and fair investigation. They will also be a record of management’s response.
- Keep your notes focused and clear. Don’t write down anything that is unrelated to the interview.
- Never destroy your notes.
UNIFOR EDUCATION PROGRAMS
Don’t be overwhelmed. Talk to your bargaining committee about negotiating the 3-day Unifor Workplace Harassment Investigator Training. You can also take the Unifor week-long Human Rights course (the National Union pays half the cost –– the other half could be the best investment your local makes this year! Contact Unifor’s Human Rights Department or your Unifor National Representative for details).
Ideally all of our collective agreements would include a provision for anti-harassment training during work hours for all employees. Unifor has produced a 1/2 day and a full day “Building Respectful Workplaces” course for exactly that purpose. If your agreement does not yet include training, management may be most likely to agree to the training when an issue arises, or as part of an overall workplace resolution. Talk with your bargaining committee about getting this commitment in place and contact Unifor’s Human Rights Department or your Unifor National Representative.
An excerpt from the UNIFOR HARASSMENT POLICY
The role of the local union is crucial in combating harassment. If a worker believes that he or she is being harassed at work and wants help, the incident must be brought to the immediate attention of the unit chairperson and the local union president.
The experience of harassment can be overwhelming for the victim. People often react with shock, humiliation and intense anger. Therefore, the victim of harassment may not always feel comfortable going through the normal channels for resolving such a problem.
Because of the sensitive and personal nature of harassment complaints, especially racial and sexual harassment; the victim may prefer initially to seek other assistance. This could be any local union elected person or official, including a workplace women’s advocate, member of the women’s committee, human rights committee and employment equity committee. This person could assist the harassment victim in bringing the incident(s) to the attention of the top local union leadership.
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.
The national representative must notify the UNIFOR national human rights department about the complaint and its resolution.
Any resolution of harassment complaint must reflect the serious nature of such acts, and send a clear signal that they will not be tolerated.
CONFIDENTIALITY MUST BE RESPECTED THROUGHOUT THE PROCESS.
WORKPLACE HARASSMENT MODEL LANGUAGE
WORKPLACE HARASSMENT – BASIC
The Company and Unifor are committed to providing a workplace free of harassment, bullying and violence. This procedure applies to all complaints of harassment that take place at this workplace. The workplace is defined as any company facility and function including but not limited to areas such as offices, shop floors, rest rooms, cafeterias, lockers, conference rooms and parking lots.
Harassment is defined as a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome, that denies individual dignity and respect on the basis of the grounds such as: sex, race, creed, colour, religion, ethnic origin, place of origin, sexual orientation, political affiliation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, family status, disability, conviction for which a pardon has been granted, age, social and economic class, activism and participation in the union, or language and any other prohibited ground, as stated in the provincial/federal Human Rights Code by any person, in particular, by management, customer, client and\or co-worker, whether verbal or physical, on a single or repeated basis, which humiliates, insults or degrades. All employees are expected to treat others with courtesy and consideration and to discourage harassment.
“Unwelcome” or “unwanted” in this context means any actions which the harasser knows, or ought reasonably to know, are not desired by the victim of the harassment.
Harassment may take many forms: verbal, physical or psychological. It may involve a threat or an implied threat, it may be that acceptance of harassment is perceived to be condition of employment. The following examples constitute harassment, but are not meant to cover all potential incidents:
Unwelcome remarks, jokes, innuendos, gestures or taunting about a person’s body, disability, attire or gender, racial or ethnic backgrounds, colour, place of birth, sexual orientation, citizenship or ancestry;
- Practical jokes, pushing, shoving, etc., which cause awkwardness or embarrassment;
- Posting or circulation of offensive photos or visual materials;
- Refusal to work or converse with an employee because of their racial background or gender, etc.
- Unwanted physical conduct such as touching, patting, pinching, etc.
- Condescension or paternalism which undermines self-respect;
- Backlash or retaliation for the lodging of a complaint or for participation in an investigation.
Bullying and personal harassment – Bullying and personal harassment are defined as deliberate actions, mobbing, offensive, malicious and/or cruel behaviour with the aim to humiliate, intimidate, undermine, or destroy the character or confidence of an individual or group of individuals. Bullying and personal harassment may include an abuse of power by one person or group over another that degrades an individual. Bullying behaviour is often persistent and part of a pattern, but it can also occur as a single incident. It is usually carried out by an individual, who ought reasonably to have known that her/his actions are unwelcome or unwanted. It can also be an aspect of group behaviour. The policy includes any member in any type of relationship, for example domestic, intimate, common law partnerships.
Some examples of bullying and personal harassment include using any form of media in verbal communication and/or in psychological manipulation but are not limited to:
- Abusive and offensive language;
- Teasing; or
- Spreading rumour and innuendo
- Unfair blame for mistakes;
- Deliberate exclusion;
- Practical jokes;
- Belittling or disregarding opinions or suggestions; or
- Public criticism
The Company and Unifor agree to form a Joint Building a Respectful Workplace Committee whose function shall be to investigate complaints and help create a respectful workplace. This committee will comprise of equal number of representatives (2) selected by the employer and by the union. At least one (1) member of this committee from each side must be a woman. The parties agree that the representatives are required to be independent and not responsible for disciplinary decision making.
All committee members (and any subsequent committee members) shall receive the agreed to Unifor Workplace Harassment Investigation Training and any agreed to or needed refresher or advanced training courses.
All employees must receive Unifor’s half-day Building a Respectful Workplace training by (a specific date). All new employees will receive this training as well. Additionally, all union representatives and members of management shall receive three-day “Building a Respectful Workplace Leadership” training.
The Company agrees to be responsible for all course costs including Unifor’s facilitator(s), any travel costs, materials etc.
The Company and Unifor agree to the following process for investigating any complaints of harassment, discrimination and bullying.
FILING A COMPLAINT:
If an employee believes he/she has been harassed and/or discriminated against there are specific actions that may be taken to put a stop to it:
- Request a stop of the unwanted behaviour;
- Inform the individual that is doing the harassing or the discriminating against you that the behaviour is unwanted and unwelcome;
- Seek assistance from any union representative;
- Document the events, complete with times, dates, location, witnesses and details;
- Report the incident to the Joint Building a Respectful Workplace Committee.
However, it is also understood that some victims of discrimination or harassment are reluctant to confront their harasser, or they may fear reprisals, lack of support from their work group, or disbelief by their supervisor or others. In this event, the victim may seek assistance by reporting the incident directly to any Union representative or any Union member of the Joint Building a Respectful Workplace Committee before taking the complaint to this committee in writing. If the employee believes her/his safety is in jeopardy s/he can exercise right to refuse unsafe work.
Upon receipt of the complaint, the contacted Union Representative/Company Official or Joint Building a Respectful Workplace Committee will immediately inform their Union or Company counterpart and together they will then interview the employee and advise the employee if the complaint can be resolved immediately and informally or if the complaint should be formalized in writing. Properly completed copies of this complaint will be forwarded to the agreed upon Joint Building a Respectful Workplace Committee. The Respondent will be provided with sufficient details of the allegations, either verbally or in writing, to formulate an appropriate response to those allegations and give their version of events.
A formal investigation of the complaint will then begin by the Joint Building a Respectful Workplace Committee as follows:
The Joint Building a Respectful Workplace Committee determines any preliminary matters. This committee will appoint at least one (1) representative selected by the employer and at least one (1) representative selected by the union from the trained committee members each side have available to conduct investigations. The committee must meet to begin their investigation as soon as possible but no later than five (5) working days after receiving the written complaint. All investigation meetings and or work shall be done on company paid time.
- Any employee who is to appear before such committee may request to have an independent union representative or member present as a witness for them during any part of the investigation they are part of.
- Where the Complainant is a woman and the complaint involves sexual harassment or gender discrimination, the Joint Investigation Committee will include at least one woman from each side.
- The issue must be handled with utmost confidentiality, and is to be resolved within ten (10) working days of notifying the joint committee with a complaint in writing. Once the committee has finalized their investigation, a written statement of their findings shall be given to the human resources manager for resolution. Copies of which shall begiven to the union chairperson, the applicant and the respondent. This report is confidential and must be treated as such, unless required to be produced by law or by an arbitrator. All documents related to the investigation will be stored in a secured location. A copy shall be sent to the assigned Unifor National Representative as well. The National Representative shall notify Unifor’s human rights department about the complaint and its resolution.
- The committee shall not be used to determine discipline in any way but rather that remains the exclusive function of the company. Any discipline implemented by the company that is based on the report shall be done as per the existing practices and collective agreement including the right to grieve and arbitrate any such discipline.
If the matter remains unresolved because the joint committee cannot reach a consensus, the complaint will be inserted into the last step of the grievance procedure for resolution. In the event that the complaint is not resolved by the parties at the last step of the grievance procedure, the union may refer the matter to arbitration in accordance with the provisions of the collective agreement.
The parties agree that this procedure is an alternative complaint mechanism and as such, complaints should not be pursued through both the grievance procedure and the Human Rights Complaint Procedure. However, the parties acknowledge the right of individuals to file a complaint with the appropriate Federal/Provincial bodies and to seek redress. Note that these federal/provincial bodies have specific time frames as to when the complaint must be filed. When a complaint is filed under this procedure, it should be noted that statutory time limits are not extended. However the grievance procedure is put in abeyance/suspended until the joint workplace harassment process is completed.
The pursuit of frivolous allegations through the Human Rights Complaint Procedure has a detrimental effect on the spirit and intent for which this policy was rightfully developed and should be discouraged.