to address harassment, bullying and discrimination
with Stephen Hammond
Tip #38 — RELY ON COMMON SENSE, NOT POLICIES...EXCLUSIVELY
This goes back a few years, but it was a case splashed across this country. In the spring of 1997, the media was full of stories about British Columbia's Simon Fraser University and its firing of swim coach Liam Donnelly after allegations of sexual harassment made by student Rachel Marsden. Yet after all was said and done, Liam Donnelly was rehired, Rachel Marsden was given $12,000 as a settlement for counselling and other expenses, John Stubbs was no longer the university's president (although he was given a severance of almost $300,000), the university paid Donnelly's $60,000 legal bill, and the university conducted a formal review of previous harassment and discrimination cases. Throughout this period, the university felt the impact on its fundraising. A Globe and Mail headline noted, "SFU's Costs in Sex Case Exceed $350,000," but when I do the math and consider all the time and resources involved in cleaning up this mess, I reckon that figure is extremely conservative.
The university also went to great expense to create a new policy and procedure for dealing with future harassment investigations. According to the university's 1998 annual report, this is a simplified explanation of the new procedure at SFU's Harassment Resolution Office:
Under the revised policy, formal harassment allegations are referred to a board chair, which can authorize or refuse to authorize an investigation. The seven-person board provides advice to a vice president. If an investigation is required, the board chair appoints an experienced investigator with expertise in administrative law, who may order a comprehensive fact-finding search, at which point the report goes to the chair, who forwards it to a senior university official - and so on and so on.
What do you think of that? Can you visualize the fast-inflating bills? After the dust settled at SFU, I looked into their previous policy and procedures, compared them with the new process, and concluded that SFU used to have a really great automatic Buick...but drove it like an old rented standard Volkswagen Beetle with John Belushi's character from Animal House at the wheel. Now I think they have a top-of-the-line Jaguar with a full-time chauffeur.
You don't need a top-of-the-line anything. Many workplaces have a policy covering harassment, bullying and discrimination. While you need a policy, it doesn't have to be anything deluxe as long as the workplace adheres to the law and common decency. Keep in mind that not only did SFU have a policy; it had paid staff dedicated solely to handling harassment complaints. Yet look at the trouble the institution got into! Most workplaces don't have those kinds of resources and most don't need it if supervisors and employees understand the importance of a harassment-free workplace - and act on it with common sense. SFU is not the only example of a workplace having a policy they didn't adhere to. I hope your workplace isn't one of them.
1) Ensure a good, basic understanding of workplace harassment, bullying and discrimination - and it will go a long way. As a supervisor, take the time to discuss these issues every once in a while and you may never have to worry about invoking the policy.
2) Answer the question "why?" when asked - don't just rely on the policy. Often supervisors look to the policy for answers and of course a policy won't answer a specific situation, instead it will give guidelines. When you refer to the policy a person may say, "why is that harassment" or "why does that violate the policy?" If you scour the policy you may never find the answer. See how the policy applies to your situation and answer "why" it's relevant in this instance.
3) Don't be afraid to update the policy - and you don't have to be a lawyer. If you think there is a need to update the policy, make a suggestion. Times change, laws change, and your policy should keep up. It won't happen over night, as you want to give it sober thought, but if it needs to change, your suggestions will be welcomed.