In my previous life, before becoming an investigator, I lived in the world of private legal practice, both in the Caribbean and in Ontario, Canada. In that role, I had the opportunity of interacting with persons of diverse social, cultural and racial backgrounds, persons of varying personality types and persons with experiences that had shaped their life or the way they interacted with others. There were many occasions where the persons with whom I interacted, whether as their advocate or as opposing counsel, were seemingly not forthcoming with the information that I needed to illicit. The typical or traditional thinking is that they are not forthcoming because they are either lying or have something to hide.
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?
Most people never think that one day they’ll have to recount for an investigator every time a colleague rolled his eyes or responded sarcastically to a question. However, a recent case from the Alberta Court of Appeal, MacLeod v. Alberta College of Social Workers, illustrates just how important the specifics are.
Recently, in the town of Lorette, Manitoba (Pop. 3,208), which is 25 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg, a little inside joke made a very big public splash. The medium? Cake icing. The platform? Snapchat. At a time when employees constantly scroll through their IPhone notifications, mean jokes blasted over social media easily infiltrate the workplace.