Whether advocating for a client before the Human Rights Tribunal, drafting a Respect at Work Policy or assisting a client with engaging a workplace investigator, many lawyers are familiar with providing advice about harassment at work, but how many of us have thought about harassment in our own workplaces?
The Law Society of Ontario’s Discrimination and Harassment Counsel (“DHC”), an organization whose mandate includes providing services to people who have concerns or complaints about discrimination or harassment by lawyers and paralegals, shed light on this topic in its most recent report.
There is no question that workplace investigations are disruptive and difficult for the parties involved. Sometimes parties are removed from the workplace or their duties are modified. Complainants and respondents are often concerned about damage to their reputations and their careers once it is known that a complaint has been made, and that an investigation is being conducted.
9.9 times out of 10, I am the only workplace investigator at a social gathering. At a recent dinner, I explained what I do for a living. I received the usual raised eye-brows and comments that the other guests would start to watch what they were saying, but no investigator jokes.
(After being a lawyer for 23 years, I believe I have heard the gamut of lawyer quotes and cracks, but I have yet to hear a good workplace investigator joke or jab.)
After the initial reaction, I was also asked, “Why, with all the media attention through #MeToo and policies and laws in place, are we still talking about people not knowing how to behave at work?”
Examples of problematic workplace behaviours often include the obvious: a racial slur, a homophobic “joke” or inappropriate touching. But what happens when the behaviour in question is less overt? While seemingly innocuous, these types of comments can amount to what has been dubbed “microaggressions”. Named the ‘Top Word of 2015’ by the Global Language Monitor, this term has become increasingly popular in our common parlance. But what are microaggressions and why should employers (and other institutions) be concerned about them?