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Think Respect at Work and Harassment Policies can be sidelined during the pandemic? Think again.

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Investigating Race-based Cases
22 Feb at
in Online
How do you investigate a case of racial discrimination or racial harassment? Have you struggled with navigating the unique challenges that arise in investigations involving racial harassment or racial discrimination? Do you know what information you need in order to make a determination or how to extract that information, without appearing biased?
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Racism is on the rise as a result of the global pandemic.  Concerns about its prevalence prompted Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner for the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), to issue a statement earlier this month condemning the practice. Landry noted that minority groups, and in particular people of Asian origin, have been the victims of taunts, threats and intimidation in public and online. She went on to make clear that no one should feel threatened or unwelcome because of the colour of their skin or where they come from.

Despite this public pronouncement, Derek Sloan, conservative Member of Parliament for Hastings-Lennox and Addington posted an online video last week asking whether Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer who was born in Hong Kong, worked for Canada or China. Mr. Sloan’s comments prompted public outcry and have been widely criticized as racist.

It was a stark reminder that Ms. Landry’s comments about racism in these challenging times were not abstract.

At difficult times it can be hard to be on our best behaviour.  The CHRC noted the relationship between racism and stress in a separate statement about COVID-19:

“Just as we must protect those who are disproportionately impacted, we must also be vigilant and call out racism and intolerance that often rears its ugly head in times of stress and uncertainty.”

Many of our employees are working from home right now and not having the same in-person interactions with their colleagues that they used to. Faced with this reality, the tendency could be for employers to think they need not worry about respect at work and harassment policies right now.  In fact, as the CHRC reminds us, the current stress that permeates our day-to-day lives might be why employers should place extra emphasis on ensuring their employees feel respected and safe while working.

Much of the training which has been done on harassment and respect at work has focused on what to look for and how to address behaviour at work.  However, just because employees are working at home doesn’t mean they can’t be subject to harassment and discrimination; instead it means that harassment and discrimination can take different forms.  And it is possible that prior training hasn’t addressed these forms in any detail, such as types of online bullying, video-conferencing etiquette, and harassment which can occur outside of the physical workplace.

As we start to consider how we will be returning to work in various phases and forms over the coming months, now might be the perfect time to consider training or re-training employees on how to interact with each other in a respectful way. If we’re going to be changing the ways in which we interact with each other at work, then we need to also look at and prepare for how we will do that respectfully.