Harassment cases in Edmonton to get scrutiny in July, council decides

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Harassment cases in Edmonton to get scrutiny in July, council decides

Edmonton council will discuss the city's progress in dealing with harassment and bullying issues in the workplace in July — a few weeks later than scheduled. 

Tuesday afternoon, city council decided to hold off on reviewing updates on the city's new employee complaints process and corporate culture.

Coun. Andrew Knack proposed the motion after union leaders showed up to the meeting. He and other councillors felt there wasn't enough time in the council meeting to hear all the concerns.

"This is a really critically important issue," Knack said at the council meeting. "Yes I'd like to get it dealt with right away but I also don't want to rush what is a very serious piece."

The city started making changes to its policies and practices after an audit last fall showed one in five employees felt they'd been harassed or subjected to discrimination in the workplace in 2016.

Mike Scott, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees local 30 thinks there's a long way to go.

"Our members don't have faith in how they go back to work after they've filed a complaint," he said. "How do we still work with this person who's created a poisoned work environment, how do we face this supervisor day to day?"

The city hired independent consulting firm, Deloitte, in January to receive and manage complaints from employees.

In a report released last week, the company said it had received 235 complaints, 41 were still being investigated and 75 were being assessed. Only two of 19 completed investigations were "fully substantiated."

Scott said the final investigative reports are redacted, leaving unions with little insight into the cases.

"Names are taken out and situations are taken out and we can't formulate an argument in the grievance process if we don't have all the information," he said.

Scott said the union may be forced to take the cases to arbitration, a "costly process." 

Lanny Chudyk, president of Civic Service Union 52, said the unions and the city disagree on how much privacy is needed for complainants and respondents.

"As long as there's a lot of secrecy around these concerns and complaints, there's not going to be a lot of trust."

When Deloitte completes an investigation, the report is sent to the city for resolution and the city redacts information for both the complainant and respondent, spokesperson Patricia Hutchison wrote in a statement.

"This redaction is in keeping with privacy law and is performed by the Office of the City Clerk," the city said.

Under privacy laws, unions are considered third parties and the city cannot release employees' personal information to them.

But Chudyk said the cases are difficult to deal with when complaints are found to be unsubstantiated and they don't see detailed investigative reports.

"There's always a cloud over everybody and the complainant feels that their concerns haven't been addressed."

Councillors are eager to discuss the findings — and potential holes in restoring workplace trust — in public.

"The complaints are going up, absenteeism is going up and sick leave is going up — all three are primary indicators that we have problems with our workforce."

Unions plan to make a formal presentation and present their concerns at a city committee meeting July 5.

Chudyk said CSU local 52 is dealing with about 340 active grievances, 50 of which are related to harassment and bullying.