By Grant Cameron
Bullying and harassment in the workplace is an issue that employers are struggling to deal with these days. Fire departments are not immune. This stuff happens across the board.
That was one of the messages at a session I attended recently at the 2019 conference of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs held at The International Centre in Mississauga, Ont.
Zaheer Lakhani, partner at Bandhu Lakhani Campea in Oakville, led a talk which was aimed at helping fire chiefs and senior officers understand their obligations in such situations.
Good, essential, eye-opening, helpful material for fire-service leaders, especially in this day and age, I say.
Lakhani told the audience he’s dealt with incidents involving fire, police, lab technicians and more.
“It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, it’s common,” he said.
Indeed, a Forum Research poll of more than 1,800 Canadians found that 55 per cent of them were bullied or had co-workers who were bullied in the workplace. And, while the majority reported it to employers, only one-third of workplaces took any action. The most common form of bullying was verbal, with 58 per cent reporting this type of behaviour, and almost a quarter reporting physical bullying.
For the record, examples of workplace bullying include physical, non-verbal, verbal, psychological and cyber bullying.
A problem, explained Lakhani, is that many leaders fail to recognize bullying and harassment, as well as sexual harassment, yet those at the helm have a legal obligation to police and weed it out.
According to the Human Rights Code, everybody has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment. The test for bullying and harassment under the Occupational Health and Safety Act is engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome from the recipient’s perspective.
The intention is irrelevant, noted Lakhani, as it only matters how the recipient felt about the situation.
To avoid problems, he advised fire-service leaders to set the tone, lead by example and have a zero-tolerance policy. They should also be properly trained and take all complaints seriously.
If an allegation does arise, fire-service leaders are advised to respond promptly, separate the individuals involved and get legal counsel.
One individual at the session asked what actions a chief should take if someone who has been bullied or harassed refuses to come forward.
In that case, Lakhani said, the chief should document the matter and any proactive measures that were taken.
“You should at least tell them their rights and how you can protect them.”
Sounds like solid advice to me.