TRU ahead of the game with workplace bullying procedures

Jessica Klymchuk, News Editor Ω

Disciplinary action for workplace bullying at TRU can include termination of employment. TRU's respectful workplace and harassment policy affects 1,100 employees including faculty, staff, administration and students who are employed by the university. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

Disciplinary action for workplace bullying at TRU can include termination of employment. TRU’s respectful workplace and harassment policy affects 1,100 employees including faculty, staff, administration and students who are employed by the university. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

New WorkSafeBC policies aren’t affecting TRU’s procedures. TRU had workplace bullying and harassment policies in place long before WorkSafeBC required them.

On Nov. 1, WorkSafeBC implemented three policies under the Worker’s Compensation Act, which deal with workplace bullying and harassment. The duties of the employers, workers and supervisors are defined in the new policies which require employers to provide training regarding workplace bullying and harassment, to outline a procedure for complaints and to keep records of cases. The new policies affect 215,000 employers and 2.2 million workers province-wide and 1,100 workers at TRU.

TRU’s Respectful Workplace and Harassment Prevention Policy was last amended in 2009. It’s facilitated by the human rights officer but preliminary steps can also be carried out by deans, directors and associate vice presidents depending on the position of the complainant.

TRU human rights officer Hugh MacInnes said TRU hired an employment and safety law expert to review the policy based on WorkSafeBC’s policy introductions, but no changes were required.

The policy defines discrimination, sexual harassment and personal harassment and outlines steps for reporting, mediation, investigation, decisions, remedies, corrective measures and discipline.

Associate vice president of human resources and planning Denis Powers said TRU already had these procedures “well in hand” and although the language might differ, the policy aligns with WorkSafeBC’s requirements. However, he said training and employee awareness is being enhanced.

Although respectful workplace workshops have existed for at least a year, TRU has amended its training procedures to include the new WorkSafeBC policies and definitions of workplace bullying and harassment and implemented an online training program.

“This is something we need to make sure we’ve been trained for and watch for and so supervisory training has occurred and will continue to occur,” Powers said.

Because bullying is hardly ever an isolated incident, Powers said human resources and unions would likely be involved in trying to reconcile harassment issues.

“For the faculty we have a negotiated process in the collective agreement and for other employee groups the policy discusses it in terms of how we first try to mediate the issue and then we investigate,” he said. “Third party investigators have often been used here. We may not have used the word bullying, but persons felt harassed for one reason or another.”

When a bullying or harassment incident is identified discipline could vary from a letter of reprimand to termination of employment, Powers said.

In 2012 the provincial government amended legislation to include compensation for stress-related mental disorders, with bullying or harassment as a potential cause. Powers said TRU has seen no claims since that amendment and doesn’t anticipate many of these types of WorkSafeBC claims.

Powers said TRU anticipated the policy changes for about two years and, as a human resources group, the universities were able to give input on changes during the decision-making process. He said TRU was concerned with making sure performance management was exempt from definitions of bullying so that supervisory conduct was not seen as harassment.

TRU’s harassment policy dates back to 1989 when there was a sexual discrimination policy. It was followed by a harassment and discrimination prevention policy, overseen by a harassment and discrimination prevention advisor. Up until 2006 there was also a harassment and discrimination prevention committee, which directed the work of the harassment and discrimination office to work towards educational opportunities. It ceased with the implementation of the current policy in 2006 and the adoption of a human rights officer.

“TRU has always been ahead of the curve in that we were among the first institutions in B.C. and across Canada to have policy that spoke specifically to discrimination and harassment in the workplace,” Seibel said. “So, we’ve had avenues since 1989 to address that, much before many other institutions did.”