Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No.15

May 6, 2004


Remedial policy adopted at Concordia, but unions critical

By Barbara Black

At Concordia, charges of harassment may be pursued through the relevant union or employees’ association, the Office of Rights and Responsibilities, or relevant legislation, including the Criminal Code.

An alternative has been developed. A procedure on psychological harassment was approved by the Rector’s Cabinet last December, and is available on the HRER Department’s website, at (Look under Additional Information.)

This procedure is to be applied by a “facilitator” appointed by the university, trained by Human Resources and in place for a three-year term. The facilitator names “assessors” to investigate complaints and make recommendations.

Andrée-Anne Bouchard, of Employee Relations, said this policy is now in effect, although no facilitator has yet been hired.

The legislation enjoins employers to “contribute to the sensitization, education and training of all staff members to prevent vexatious behaviour and to ensure that all employees enjoy a workplace devoid of discrimination and harassment.”

To this end, HRER has instituted a series of two-hour information sessions for 295 supervisors, and the Rector has asked them to attend.

Bouchard said that 10 such workshops have been held, and were attended by approximately half of those managers invited; six are still to be held, and more will be given in the fall. She said that those who attend are encouraged to share what they have learned about psychological harassment with their employees.

Bouchard said that the university’s procedure is likely to be more confidential, timely and less costly than pursuing harassment charges through the arbitration process provided by a collective agreement.

References in the procedure to sanctions are still vague. When asked what disciplinary measures could be taken against a someone found guilty of harassment, Bouchard said they could range from a letter to the transfer to another department of either party or even to dismissal of the culprit.

More cases

John Raso has been dealing with individual cases for CUPEU, the 300-member professional employees union, for four years. He says he has seen an increase in charges of harassment, all of them psychological rather than physical. None involve sexual harassment.

At present, Raso is aware of seven cases, two of them against the same supervisor. In fact, only one case of the seven is by an employee against a peer; the others are by an employee against his or her supervisor.

“This [alleged harassment] involves a small minority of managers, but our representative from the CSN [Confédération des syndicats nationaux] says Concordia has the most she’s seen anywhere,” Raso said.

In trying to iron out such disputes, a mutually satisfactory resolution often depends on the goodwill of the administrator overseeing the supervisor who was accused. However, Raso said, “It’s often complicated by the fact that there are many players. It needs creative solutions, not defensiveness.”

Suzanne Downs, president of CUSSU, the Support Staff Union, was critical of the procedure adopted by the university, said, “It doesn’t have any teeth. The person investigating [such charges] should be an autonomous person, not someone hired and paid by HR.

“We have a tendency to stick our heads in the sand and hope it will go away, that the person will leave [the university]. We blame it on personality conflicts. Worse, people get used to it.

“Many people at Concordia are not permanent, [so] their jobs are precarious, and [dismissals] don’t have to be justified.”

Downs added that workload contributes to stress, and that can create conflict. “We keep getting told enrolment is going up, but the number of staff is roughly the same.

Downs wondered why only managers were given the information sessions, and why no sanctions against abusive supervisors were mentioned in the procedure.

“The abuser could be a key player, somebody that’s too valuable to the university. The ultimate loser would be the whistleblower.”