There’s a crispness in the air that reminds me that winter is just around the corner. At the risk of being “that person,” I love this season; sitting by a crackling fire with my family and a cup of tea is what I consider perfection. Like me, some human resources departments are also gearing up for their end-of-year gatherings – apparently, office holiday parties are back in style.
A few weeks ago, I was part of a panel on TVO. The discussion centred on what had changed in the two years since the #Me Too Movement had begun. Much to my surprise, I seemed to be the sole voice on the panel who thought that the needle on the sexual harassment dial had moved at all.
At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, let me explain why I believe things have changed. I do so from the vantage point of someone who leads a large team of lawyers, lawyers who investigate complaints of sexual harassment across the country, in English and in French, and in every conceivable type of workplace.
You hear things. A whisper here and there. An overheard comment about a colleague crossing the line with another colleague. Repeatedly. Or maybe it’s more than a whisper. Maybe it’s more of a resounding chorus. And the voices are all offering alarmingly similar and compelling descriptions of a colleague engaging in a pattern of behaviour that – according to multiple reports – is decidedly unwelcome. The information may even be set out in writing in a formal letter of complaint. But the author of the letter has chosen to remain anonymous.
Most reported cases of sexual misconduct on university campuses follow a common narrative: a male professor engages in sexual misconduct with female student. This scenario pits sexual violence advocates against institutions and engages the media. But what happens when the narrative changes?
It certainly seems that way. A recent annotated bibliography by the University of Calgary presents some pretty staggering data that suggests that academic dishonesty is “widespread amongst Canadian students and faculty.” The authors reviewed 68 studies on academic integrity performed in Canada up to and including 2017. The paper states that between half and 90% of students self-report academically dishonest behaviours.
An employee complained that she had been sexually harassed by her male supervisor. The employer conducted an internal investigation and concluded that the sexual encounter had been consensual, and therefore sexual harassment had not occurred. The complainant was fired for making a bad faith complaint. An arbitrator came to the opposite conclusion. He found that the complainant had, in fact, been subjected to sexual harassment and sexual assault. He reinstated her job and ordered compensation for lost wages and benefits.
Most workplace investigation decisions focus on the psychological harm to complainants suffered as a result of the alleged misconduct. We have written about this issue before – see our discussion of the importance of a trauma-informed approach for victims of sexual assault here.
When an employer receives a complaint or becomes aware of an incident of workplace harassment, it must be investigated. But what happens when the complaint is made against a member of the employer’s family, who just so happens to be a co-worker?