Harassment has been front and centre of media headlines since various celebrities, including Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein, have been publicly accused of sexual harassment in recent months. So it’s no surprise that employees everywhere are making their personal experiences with workplace harassment public.
Even our own City of Edmonton has had an overwhelming amount of harassment and discrimination complaints within its own departments. City employees have taken their complaints and made them public saying that “bullying, harassment and discrimination are creating pockets of toxic working conditions that are not being investigated and punished appropriately.”
A survey performed last fall showed that one in five workers have reported some form of workplace harassment within the city of Edmonton departments! The city officials have refused to release the details of the survey saying that it “is too sensitive” as it included employee names and information but they have promised that workplace harassment data details will be released by mid-January 2018.
City officials have suspended their internal complaints process and a St Albert based mediator has been appointed to handle all employee concerns until an external firm can be hired to manage and take on the entire project. The city council’s executive committee has been requested to approve a whopping $2.5 million dollar contract to assist in investigating complaints and develop a comprehensive and fair harassment and discrimination complaints process. Given the current state of affairs, it will be money well spent.
The city Manager, Linda Cochrane, has publicly addressed the workers concerns and has issued an apology to the city employees that have experienced workplace harassment. “To the staff who came forward in obvious pain, I am sorry,” Cochrane said. “We will work hard until we get this right.”
Some companies are even taking a proactive step towards planning holiday parties to prevent harassment happening during events that are typically served with alcohol. A few employers are sending out emails to their employees outlining the “expectation for good behaviour” at the event, as well as eliminating an open bar in favour of limited drink tickets. Some companies are even going as far as to throw a more sedate Christmas lunch instead of an evening party.
Currently, the Alberta OHS Act, Regulations and Code does not address workplace harassment. However, provincial legislature has proposed a new law that would make workplace harassment policies mandatory for employers. The Occupational Health and Safety (Protection from Workplace Harassment) Amendment Act, 2016 passed its first reading on November 9, 2017 and is moving on to its second. If the bill passes, it would require every employer in Alberta to establish workplace harassment policies and investigate every complaint they receive. If the employee is not satisfied with the outcome of the complaint, they will be able to file another complaint with Alberta OHS.
All Albertans deserve a work environment that is free of harassment, discrimination and bullying and the physical, emotional, and psychological damages it inflicts. Identifying workplace harassment as a safety hazard/unsafe condition is one of the first steps towards creating a safe and healthy workplace for all employees.
If your company would like assistance in developing a Workplace Harassment Policy, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Safety Ahead!