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Audit of Harassment Prevention and Resolution (AU1610)

Audit Branch
Natural Resources Canada

Presented to the Departmental Audit Committee (DAC)
September 22, 2016

TABLE OF CONTENTS

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

INTRODUCTION

The Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada’s (TBS) Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution defines harassment as any improper conduct by an individual that is directed at and offensive to another individual in the workplace, including at any event or any location related to work, and that the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm. It comprises objectionable acts, comments, or displays that demean, belittle, or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat. Harassment is normally a series of incidents, but it can also be one severe incident, which has a lasting impact on the individual.

The federal public service has recognized that the prevention and resolution of harassment in the workplace is an essential component in the effective people management of an organization. In the Twenty-Second Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada, dated March 31, 2015, the Clerk of the Privy Council identified a healthy workplace as a prerequisite for a high-achieving Public Service necessary for Canada’s success in the 21st century. 

In response to the 2014 Government-wide Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) results, the Clerk of the Privy Council recognized that participant responses were more positive in 2014 than in previous years regarding: their immediate supervisor, performance management, workload, and respect and ethics in the workplace. However, the Clerk of the Privy Council also stated that the number of employees whose responses indicated that they had experienced harassment was unacceptable and that it was imperative that the Government of Canada (GoC) create a workplace that does not tolerate harassment. Furthermore, it was expected that all federal departments and agencies use the information from the survey to take action to address this issue and to create a workplace where all employees are respected. Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) employee participation rate in the 2014 PSES was almost 71%. The departmental response indicated that 16% of employees had experienced harassment in the workplace over the prior two years.

The TBS provides the policies and directives to assist federal departments and agencies in the prevention and resolution of harassment in the workplace. The renewed 2012 Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution and the new Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process reinforce the responsibility of Deputy Heads for: establishing and maintaining a respectful and harassment-free workplace; promptly resolving related complaints; and, monitoring compliance within their organizations.

The Human Resources and Workplace Management Branch (HRWMB) within NRCan’s Corporate Management and Services Sector (CMSS) facilitates and promotes harassment prevention initiatives, including the development of tools, training, and awareness sessions. The HRWMB also coordinates formal and informal conflict resolution processes, including harassment resolution and the restoration of a healthy workplace.

The objective of the audit was to provide reasonable assurance that NRCan has established procedures and processes that foster a harassment-free workplace in compliance with GoC policies and directives. The Audit of Harassment Prevention and Resolution was included in the Risk-Based Audit Plan for 2015-2016, was approved by the Deputy Minister on March 12, 2015.

STRENGTHS

There is a governance structure in place to administer harassment prevention initiatives and harassment resolution processes in accordance with the TBS policy instrument. Confidential channels of communication exist, including a designated Coordinator for the prevention and resolution of harassment, responsible for the application of the Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution and the Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process. Overall, employees interviewed expressed satisfaction in management’s commitment to foster a harassment-free workplace by undertaking preventive activities and promoting respectful behaviour.

AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT

Opportunities for improvement were identified to leverage existing governance mechanisms to promote awareness and further engage senior management as well as improve performance monitoring and reporting mechanisms. In addition, opportunities were identified to strengthen the harassment resolution process by improving awareness of: the definition of harassment under the applicable policy instruments; the resources available to support employees; and, the formal harassment complaint process, including the range of possible outcomes. 

INTERNAL AUDIT CONCLUSION AND OPINION

In my opinion, the Department has established key procedures and processes that foster a harassment-free workplace in compliance with Government of Canada policies and directives. Opportunities were identified to improve the governance structure and strengthen existing processes. I encourage the Department to continue its efforts in support of a harassment-free workplace.

STATEMENT OF CONFORMANCE

In my professional judgement as Chief Audit Executive, the audit conforms with the Internal Auditing Standards for the Government of Canada, as supported by the results of the Quality Assurance and Improvement Program.

Christian Asselin, CPA, CA, CMA, CFE
Chief Audit Executive
September 22, 2016

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The audit team would like to thank those individuals who contributed to this project and particularly employees who provided insights and comments as part of this audit.

INTRODUCTION

Healthy workplaces, where employees and managers at all levels are engaged and treated with respect and dignity, are essential to high-performing organizations. In a complex and demanding work environment that brings together diverse individuals and where collaboration is essential to success, misunderstandings and interpersonal conflicts are inevitable. Unresolved conflict can deteriorate relationships and work environments, which may lead to individuals acting inappropriately. Incidents of both real and perceived harassment can negatively impact workplace morale and must be promptly and adequately addressed.

Harassment is any improper conduct by an individual that is directed at and offensive to another individual in the workplace, including at any event or any location related to work, and that the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm. It comprises objectionable acts, comments or displays that demean, belittle, or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat. Harassment is normally a series of incidents but it can also be one severe incident which has a lasting impact on the individual.

The federal public service has recognized that the prevention and resolution of harassment in the workplace is an essential component in the effective people management of an organization. In the Twenty-Second Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada, dated March 31, 2015, the Clerk of the Privy Council identified a healthy workplace as a prerequisite for a high-achieving Public Service necessary for Canada’s success in the 21st century.

Every three years, since 1999, the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer within the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS), in collaboration with Statistics Canada, conducts a Public Service Employee Survey (PSES). The survey measures employees’ opinions in relation to employee engagement, leadership, the workforce, and the workplace. Results are compiled by federal departments and agencies, enabling each organization to analyze the results and create action plans, as required, to address areas of concern. The most recent PSES was conducted in 2014. A total of 182,165 employees in 93 federal departments and agencies responded to the survey, an overall response rate of 71.4%.

Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) employee participation rate in the 2014 PSES was almost 71%. Their responses indicated that 16% of employees had experienced harassment in their workplace over the prior two years. The most common forms included offensive remarks, unfair treatment and being excluded or ignored. The main perpetrators of these uncivil behaviours were supervisors or peers with 48% of respondents reporting that individuals in positions of authority were the source of the harassment.

When asked what actions employees had taken in response to harassment issues, the survey indicated the following: 57% of employees discussed the issue with their immediate supervisor, 13% used an informal conflict resolution process, 24% took no action, and 4% filed a grievance or formal complaint. The reasons most frequently sighted for inaction included: not believing it would make a difference, fear of reprisal, and concerns about the formal complaint process.      

In response to the Government-wide PSES results, the Clerk of the Privy Council recognized that participant responses were more positive in 2014 than in previous surveys regarding their immediate supervisor, performance management, workload, and respect and ethics in the workplace. However, the Clerk of the Privy Council also stated that the number of employees indicating they had experienced harassment was unacceptable and that it was imperative that the GoC create a workplace that does not tolerate harassment. Furthermore, it was expected that all federal departments and agencies use the information from the survey to take action to address this issue and to create a workplace where all employees are respected.

The TBS provides the policies and directives to assist federal departments and agencies in the prevention and resolution of harassment in the workplace. The renewed 2012 Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution and the new Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process reinforce the responsibility of Deputy Heads for establishing and maintaining a respectful and harassment-free workplace; for promptly resolving related complaints; and for monitoring compliance within their organizations. 

The Human Resources and Workplace Management Branch (HRWMB) within NRCan’s Corporate Management and Services Sector (CMSS) facilitates and promotes harassment prevention initiatives, including the development of tools, training, and awareness sessions. The HRWMB also coordinates formal and informal conflict resolution processes, including harassment resolution and the restoration of a healthy workplace.

AUDIT PURPOSE AND OBJECTIVES

The objective of this audit was to provide reasonable assurance that NRCan has established procedures and processes that foster a harassment-free workplace in compliance with GoC policies and directives. Specifically, the audit assessed whether an:

  • Adequate governance structure is in place to foster a harassment-free workplace;
  • Adequate prevention strategies and tools are implemented and clearly communicated; and,
  • Adequate and confidential resolution processes and tools have been implemented.

AUDIT CONSIDERATIONS

A risk-based approach was used in establishing the objectives, scope, and approach for this audit engagement. A summary of the key underlying potential risks that could impact the effective management of harassment prevention and resolution include:

  • The governance structure, including documented roles and responsibilities, may not support the successful delivery of harassment prevention strategies and the resolution process;
  • Training and tools regarding harassment prevention strategies, informal resolution methods and the formal complaint process may not provide employees with the appropriate knowledge and skills to deal with incidents of harassment or incivility;
  • The current culture, accepted practices, and demonstrated leadership within senior ranks throughout the organization may not be conducive to a harassment-free workplace;
  • The commitment of employees and managers at all levels to align their behaviour with Public Sector Values may not foster a workplace that is free of harassment; and,
  • Adequate and confidential resolution processes may not be established to resolve harassment issues.

SCOPE

The scope of the audit included the relevant departmental activities related to harassment prevention initiatives and resolution processes. The audit focused on the period commencing with the effective date of the renewed 2012 Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution October 1, 2012 and ending June 30, 2016.​​​

APPROACH AND METHODOLOGY

The approach and methodology followed the Internal Auditing Standards for the GoC, which incorporates the Institute of Internal Auditors' International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing. These standards require that the audit be planned and performed in such a way as to obtain reasonable assurance that audit objectives are achieved.

The audit included tests considered necessary to provide such assurance. Internal auditors performed the audit with independence and objectivity as defined by the Internal Auditing Standards for the GoC.

The audit approach included the following key tasks:

  1. Interviews with key stakeholders regarding harassment prevention initiatives and resolution processes;
  2. Review of key documents including policies, directives, and guidance;
  3. Review of survey and feedback instruments, including Public Service Employee Surveys, departmental surveys, and participant feedback; and, 
  4. A detailed examination of information and documentation pertaining to departmental planning, monitoring, performance, and reporting.

The conduct phase of this audit was substantially completed in June 2016.

CRITERIA

The criteria were developed from the key controls set out in the TBS’s Core Management Controls and relevant associated policies, procedures, and directives. The criteria guided the fieldwork and formed the basis for the overall audit conclusion.

Appendix A summarizes the detailed audit criteria.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

GOVERNANCE

Summary Finding

There is an adequate governance structure in place to administer harassment prevention initiatives and harassment resolution processes in accordance with the Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada (TBS) policy instrument. As part of the governance structure, NRCan has a Director General level Values and Ethics Committee (VEAC) in place whose role is to enable communication on key issues to managers and employees within their respective Sectors on Values and Ethics (V&E) related topics. Opportunities exist to further leverage this committee to create awareness and further promote a respectful and harassment-free work place.

The formal harassment complaint process is currently coordinated within the Labour Relations function of the Workplace Management and Wellness Division (WMWD). Consequently, many employees expressed concern that the process lacked the requisite neutrality to effectively address their needs. Management has re-structured the WMWD to segregate these two functions. The new structure has yet to be communicated to the organisation.

There is currently no process to systematically provide periodic reports to senior management on harassment prevention and resolution initiatives; critical information to facilitate strategic and informed decision making.

Supporting Observations

A sound governance structure that provides oversight of harassment prevention and resolution initiatives is essential to ensure the Department continues to provide the necessary support to foster a harassment- free workplace for all employees. Monitoring and reporting on harassment prevention and resolution activities allows senior management to assess the adequacy of departmental efforts and provides insight into the overall health of the workplace.

The audit assessed whether an adequate governance structure is in place to foster a harassment-free workplace. Specifically, the audit sought to determine whether: roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for those responsible for harassment prevention and resolution activities are clearly documented, communicated and understood; harassment prevention and resolution policies and procedures are clearly defined and documented; that the processes are administered in accordance with TBS policy instruments; and, that harassment in the workplace is monitored and reported to senior management.  

Governance structure

The Executive Committee, chaired by the Deputy Minister, is the most senior deliberative and decision-making committee of the Department. Among its many responsibilities, the Executive Committee provides direction on values and ethics, which includes fostering a respectful workplace free of harassment. The Human Resources Management Committee (HRRC), a Director General-level committee chaired by an Assistant Deputy Minister, supports the Executive Committee and the Deputy Minister in setting the Department’s strategic direction for talent management, including learning; and, providing recommendations and strategic advice on people management issues with a focus on promoting a Department-wide approach to human resource management.

The Values and Ethics Advisory Committee (VEAC) supports the Executive Committee and the Deputy Minister in setting the Department’s strategic direction for NRCan’s Values and Ethics Program which includes the promotion of a respectful workplace within the Department. The VEAC, chaired by the NRCan’s V&E Champion, is a Director General-level committee whose mandate is to provide senior-level advice to the Executive Committee. This committee enables communication of key workplace issues to managers and employees within their respective Sectors. The committee however, has focused primarily on topics related to Conflict of Interest and broader V&E issues. The audit identified an opportunity to further leverage this committee as a valuable tool to engage both senior leaders and employees to increase awareness and help foster a harassment-free workplace.

Pursuant to the TBS Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process, the Deputy Head has designated the Director, Workplace Management and Wellness Division (WMWD) with the responsibility of managing the harassment complaint and resolution process in accordance with GoC policies and directives. Reporting to the Director, Workplace Management and Wellness are Labour Relations Advisors responsible for harassment prevention and resolution activities, including the provision of awareness sessions and coordination of the formal harassment complaint process.The audit found that roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities of the Director, Workplace Management and Wellness and the Labour Relations Advisors are clearly defined and understood.

The Informal Conflict Resolution Office (ICRO) was established in 2006 following the introduction of the 2005 Public Service Labour Relations Act. This Act mandates that all Deputy Heads in the core public administration establish an Informal Conflict Management System (ICMS). An ICMS introduces a systematic approach to preventing conflict escalation by managing and resolving conflicts in the workplace quickly and constructively. It is a system that supports a culture of effective conflict management that emphasizes honest discussion and collaborative problem-solving between individuals who are involved in conflicts. ICMS practitioners help employees prevent, manage, and resolve workplace conflicts using confidential and informal approaches, including consultations, coaching, facilitation, mediation, workplace discussions, and workshops.

The audit acknowledges that the Labour Relations Advisors and the ICMS practitioners possess all the required competencies to discharge their responsibilities. However, audit interviews with employees indicated that the requirement that employees engage Labour Relations Advisors to initiate the formal harassment complaint process has impacted employees’ perception of the neutrality of this process. Audit interviews indicated that many employees would rather file a grievance through their respective bargaining agents than use the Department’s formal or informal complaint and resolution processes. This preference was based on greater employee confidence in the grievance process meeting their needs and concerns.

The audit noted that management is in the process of restructuring the Workplace Management and Wellness Division (WMWD) to segregate the coordination of the formal harassment complaint process from the Labour Relations function.

Compliance with TBS Policy

A current, robust, and comprehensive set of policies, guidelines, and procedures aligned with TBS policy instruments is essential to direct Departmental initiatives to foster a respectful workplace and address incidents of harassment. The audit found that there is no departmental policy on harassment prevention and resolution. Instead, the Department has adopted the TBS Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution, which provides broad guidance for the entire federal Public Service. The TBS Policy states that “It intends to give enough flexibility for tailoring mechanisms and practices to the distinctive operational needs and culture of each organization. Minimum requirements and expectations of all organizations are stipulated in this policy and related directive”. The audit found that the Department has established harassment prevention and resolution processes in accordance with the TBS Policy. These include:

  • Designating a Harassment Prevention and Resolution Coordinator;
  • Ensuring preventive activities are in place to foster a harassment-free workplace;
  • Optimizing the use of the informal resolution processes; and,
  • Regularly consulting with bargaining agents, ICMS practitioners and other stakeholders.

With regards to the TBS requirement related to monitoring, the Department has key mechanisms in place such as the ICMS Activity and Statistics Report, prepared annually by the ICRO. This report includes information such as the number of clients served, conflicts identified (i.e. harassment, interpersonal conflict, discrimination, etc.), total hours of intervention by type of services and outcomes following mediation or facilitated discussion. This report however, is not currently shared or presented to senior management. The Director WMWD provides a verbal briefing to the Deputy Minister on a quarterly basis. This briefing includes a range of human resource issues and may include details pertaining to specific harassment complaints, decisions and resolution initiatives. However, a standardized summary of formal harassment complaints filed, decisions made, and action taken is not presented to senior management.   

Additional information beneficial for senior management decision making includes the provision of trend analyses of information collected in the Employee Departure Feedback Program (EDFP). This program obtains information on employee views, work experience, and the factors that influenced their decision to leave the organization. During audit interviews, many employees indicated that they would consider leaving the Department if they experienced harassment, rather than filing a formal complaint or grievance. As such, the EDFP may contain valuable information that could identify trends and issues affecting the quality of the work environment and employee well-being. However, the audit found that there is a lack of clarity regarding the ownership of the program’s data and to whom it should be reported.    

Periodic reporting of information such as: the ICMS activity report; a summary of harassment complaints; and a trend analysis of EDFP data could be valuable to senior management in facilitating informed decision-making. In addition, such reporting could provide an overview of the workplace environment and ensure departmental compliance with the TBS Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution.      

RISK AND IMPACT

A lack of engagement with Department-wide committees regarding harassment prevention, limits the Department’s ability to effectively increase awareness across the organization. Moreover, the absence of adequate performance monitoring and reporting reduces senior management’s ability to provide informed decision making.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. It is recommended that the Assistant Deputy Minister Corporate Management and Services Sector (ADM CMSS), in collaboration with the Chair of the Values and Ethics Advisory Committee, formally include promoting a respectful workplace and awareness of harassment prevention as part of the committee’s mandate.
     
  2. It is recommended that the ADM CMSS formally separate the coordination of the harassment complaint process from the Labour Relations function to strengthen neutrality.
     
  3. It is recommended that the ADM CMSS periodically report to senior management on harassment prevention and resolution, including performance metrics and ongoing initiatives and activities.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE AND ACTION PLAN

Management agrees. In response to recommendation 1:

Revisions to the mandate of the Values and Ethics Advisory Committee (VEAC) to include promoting and raising awareness on respectful workplace and harassment prevention will be proposed at the fall meeting.

Timing: October 2016

Management agrees. In response to recommendation 2:

A new structure has been put in place in the Workplace Management and Wellness Division (WMWD) to segregate the Labour Relations function from the Coordination function of the harassment complaint process. Communication to employees on the harassment complaint process, available resources including contact information will be disseminated across the organisation.

Timing: September 2016

Management agrees. In response to recommendation 3:

WMWD will report to the VEAC on harassment prevention and resolution program performance metrics and ongoing initiatives and activities.

Briefings will continue to take place on a quarterly basis with the Deputy Minister on specific data related to harassment cases.

Timing: October 2016

WMWD will publish its first quarterly statistical dashboard on The Source that will include proactive disclosure data on harassment complaints.

Timing: April 2017

PREVENTION AND RESOLUTION

Summary Finding

NRCan has implemented harassment prevention strategies and tools, with support and commitment from senior leadership. In addition, an adequate and confidential resolution process has been implemented.

The Department has adopted the TBS Policy Instruments and has provided some related training to its employees. However, the audit found that employees were often unclear as to: what constitutes harassment; what resources are available; and, the process to address harassment, including possible outcomes. The audit found that NRCan has provided employees with limited guidance on the definition of harassment under the applicable policy instruments; and, the formal harassment complaint process including the range of possible outcomes that could better inform the expectations of complainants and respondents. Furthermore, it was unclear whether harassment awareness training was mandatory or optional. Additionally, upward feedback exercises were identified as a possible tool to support managers in identifying skills required to effectively discharge their supervisory responsibilities.

Although some Sectors organize sector-specific activities for harassment prevention and promoting respectful behaviour, there is no Department-wide approach to ensure consistent messaging. The audit also found that there is no mechanism in place to enable Sector’s senior management to identify and share existing best practices regarding harassment prevention initiatives.

Supporting Observations

A key component of maintaining a harassment-free workplace is education. It is expected that employees have been given opportunities to learn about harassment prevention strategies, the harassment complaint process, and that management actively fosters a harassment-free workplace by promoting respectful workplace behaviour. In addition, the audit also sought to determine whether: managers are adequately trained and equipped to identify and address incidents of harassment in the workplace; that confidential channels of communication exist for individuals to report incidents; and, that there is an adequate, timely, and confidential resolution process.

Overall awareness

The Workplace Management and Wellness Division is responsible for providing the mandatory Harassment Awareness Session for all employees across the Department. Training is provided throughout the year in segregated sessions exclusively for employees or managers, thereby eliminating any reporting hierarchy and facilitating more open discussions of workplace conflict within work units. The goal of the awareness sessions is to provide an understanding of the definition of harassment under the applicable policy instruments, identify available resources, and outline the formal complaint process. This strategy provides the Department with a comprehensive approach to promoting awareness about harassment, while fostering an open environment for sharing similar concerns and issues.

The audit found that awareness sessions were offered on a regular basis during the audit period. There was a lack of clarity regarding whether these awareness sessions were mandatory or optional. Furthermore, results of audit interviews with employees at all levels indicated that half of the participants had attended the harassment awareness session at some point in time during their career at NRCan. However, those who had participated indicated that they could not recall the key contents of the session, including what constitutes harassment and what resources within the Department are available to employees that experience harassment.

In an attempt to address this issue, the Workplace Management and Wellness Division is considering leveraging an online training course provided by the Canada School of Public Service as a mandatory training requirement. Leveraging the functionality of the online course offering should enable HRWMB employees to track and monitor participation more efficiently while ensuring the consistency of content delivery. This initiative has yet to be formally implemented and communicated.

In addition, the audit found that a significant amount of information on harassment is available to employees on the Department’s intranet site. This includes a link to the TBS Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution and the “NRCan Employee Resource Guide on Nurturing a Respectful Workplace”, which outlines available resources, including contact information for the Harassment Prevention and Resolution Coordinator, bargaining agents, the Informal Conflict Resolution Office, and the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP).

Fostering a harassment-free workplace

Leadership is a cornerstone in the creation of a workplace that does not tolerate harassment or disrespectful behaviour. The audit found that NRCan’s senior leadership is engaged and committed to fostering a harassment-free workplace and promoting respectful behaviour. The 2014 PSES results indicated that 80% of NRCan’s respondents thought that employees were treated with respect. These results were consistent with employees’ opinions expressed in audit interviews.

The HRWMB recently completed a departmental Mental Health and Wellness in the Workplace Initiative. The Plan outlines specific activities, targets, timeliness and responsibilities to promote a positive, healthy work environment within the Department. The Executive Committee has approved the Plan and implementation is underway. Another best practice is the Changing our Organization through Respect (COR) initiative, within the Strategic Policy and Results Sector (SPRS). As this initiative has gained momentum, SPRS has invited other Sectors to participate in COR activities to promote and maintain a healthy work environment.

Results of audit interviews indicated that numerous Sectors have implemented their own initiatives to address harassment in the workplace such as “safe space” discussions, lunch and learn sessions, and conference speakers. A best practice was noted in the Strategic Policy and Results Sector (SPRS). Data acquired through recent employee surveys and engagement activities was categorized to determine key themes. The themes were then used to perform a gap analysis, identifying issues not currently addressed by Sector or Departmental initiatives. SPRS also established a set of sector core values that are recognized and shared by all employees through “culture cards”. Another best practice was identified in the Earth Sciences Sector (ESS). Following the 2014 PSES results, a Workplace Improvement Task Team (WITT) was created to validate and enhance management’s understanding of the survey results, prioritize issues, and propose solutions to senior management for improving the workplace.

Although some Sectors organize specific activities for harassment prevention and the promotion of a respectful workplace, there is no consistent approach across the Department. This decentralized and uncoordinated approach has resulted in a large variance in awareness and initiatives among employees. Furthermore, the audit found that there is no mechanism in place for Sectors to identify and share existing best practices regarding initiatives and strategies that promote a harassment-free workplace.

Manager training

Exercising the normal supervisory functions such as assigning and appraising performance is an important responsibility of supervisors and managers. However, approaches may differ and communication and people management skills are critical to appropriately discharge this responsibility. In some cases, where performance is an issue, and a supervisor’s communication and people management skills are lacking, exercising supervisory responsibilities may be misinterpreted or perceived to be harassment. As such, promoting awareness and ensuring managers have sound communication and interpersonal skills, contributes to a healthy work environment. 

Many employees interviewed as part of the audit were concerned that managers were sometimes promoted based upon technical skills, rather than people management skills. A general sentiment identified in audit interviews was that people management skills required to foster a healthy work environment were not consistently employed throughout the Department. Similarly, audit interviews conducted with managers and supervisors indicated that participants were sometimes reluctant to exercise their managerial responsibilities in addressing difficult issues with employees. This reluctance was based on concerns that legitimate managerial actions may be misinterpreted by employees as workplace harassment, resulting in the lodging of a formal complaint and a potential workplace harassment investigation. Audit interviews with management across the Department indicated that the majority of them feel ill-equipped to address workplace harassment and that role-specific training and skills required to effectively address workplace harassment has not been provided.

Through audit interviews, employees indicated that an upward feedback exercise could benefit their immediate supervisors by identifying areas of improvement regarding their communication and people management skills. Managers and directors also indicated that such a feedback mechanism would be a welcome tool to gain insight and feedback on their management style, enabling them to identify opportunities to further improve their skills and approach. During the audit, it was identified that IN·spire, NRCan’s Innovation Hub, was tasked with developing an Upward Feedback Questionnaire to provide an honest, confidential, constructive, and safe mechanism for providing feedback to managers and executives. Such a tool could be beneficial to address management’s concerns, if leveraged and rolled out across the Department.

Resolution process

There are three channels of communication for employees to confidentially report incidents of workplace harassment: their immediate supervisor, the Coordinator for the Prevention and Resolution of Harassment in the workplace, and their bargaining agent. The audit found that these channels were not widely communicated and promoted throughout the Department. Audit interviews indicated that employees were not readily aware of these options, and many expressed concerns about using them for various reasons, the most frequent being the fear of reprisal and prudent career management.

Participants also expressed a lack of knowledge of the harassment complaints process, including possible outcomes and resolution. Providing a detailed explanation of the process, including issues of privacy rights for both the complainant and respondent, and a range of possible outcomes, would aid employees in managing their expectations of the harassment complaints process. 

The audit reviewed all formal complaints filed from October 1st, 2012 up until November 30th, 2015 and found the process to be adequate and timely. On average, a determination of whether the complaint meets the definition of harassment under the applicable policy instrument is completed and communicated to the complainant within two weeks. If the complaint meets the definition, informal resolution is offered to the parties. If one or both parties decline, or if informal resolution is unsuccessful, an investigation by a specialist external to the Department is conducted. The results of the investigation are presented in a final report provided to the employer, the complainant, and the respondent within a period of six months. If necessary, the employer makes a determination of any administrative and/or disciplinary actions to be taken.

RISK AND IMPACT

Insufficient training and awareness undermines the Department’s efforts to foster a harassment-free workplace. Managers who are ill-equipped to identify and respond to incidents of workplace harassment are unable to effectively intervene and provide their employees with the necessary response and support when workplace harassment occurs. Misunderstandings regarding the harassment complaints and resolution process may foster false expectations among employees, and thereby may undermine confidence in the harassment complaints and resolution process.  

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. It is recommended that the Director General and Chief Human Resources Officer, in consultation with the Values and Ethics Advisory Committee (VEAC), ensure that guidance for harassment prevention and resolution procedures and processes are established and communicated to all NRCan employees.

  2. It is recommended that the Assistant Deputy Minister Corporate Management and Services Sector (ADM CMSS), in collaboration with the Director General and Chief Human Resources Officer:
    1. Increase awareness of the definition of harassment under the applicable policy instruments; the formal complaint process and its possible outcomes; and, the resources available to employees and management by leveraging existing training programs/courses, and by prominently displaying information on the Department’s intranet and other communication channels; and,

    2. Promote tools and resources to assist managers in strengthening their people management and engagement skills. This may include upward feedback mechanisms, 360 degree feedback and learning activities.

  3. It is recommended that the ADM CMSS, in collaboration with the Chair of the VEAC, leverage the VEAC to identify and share best practices across the Sectors, including existing communication tools and communication strategies, to promote awareness regarding Prevention and Resolution of Harassment within NRCan.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE AND ACTION PLAN

Management agrees. In response to recommendation 4:

A communication plan will be approved by VEAC, and implementation initiated once approved.

Timing: January 2017

Management agrees. In response to recommendation 5:

  1. This will be part of the communication plan (see Management Response and Action Plan item #4).

  2. This will be part of the communication plan (see Management Response and Action Plan item #4).

Workplace Management and Wellness Division (WMWD) will identify and promote tools and resources to assist managers in strengthening their people management and engagement skills. The tools and resources will be published on the values and ethics intranet site. This work will aim for a sustained commitment from management at all levels by engagement activities on various topics, specific strategies underway to build capacity and address the broad range of healthy workplace contributors (respect, mental health, talent management, performance management, harassment).

Timing: April 2017

A manager’s toolkit on harassment prevention will be developed and communicated.

Timing: April 2017

Management agrees. In response to recommendation 6:

As part of the revised mandate of the VEAC (See Management Response and Action Plan item #1) members will be mandated to promote awareness within their respective Sectors.

Timing: December 2016

VEAC members to report back on harassment prevention and resolution promotion initiatives held within their Sectors.

Timing: April 2017

APPENDIX A – AUDIT CRITERIA

The criteria were developed from the key controls set out in the Treasury Board Secretariat’s Core Management Controls and relevant associated policies, procedures, and directives. The criteria guided the fieldwork and formed the basis for the overall audit conclusion.

The objective of the audit was to provide reasonable assurance that NRCan has established procedures and processes that foster a harassment-free workplace in compliance with GoC policies and directives.

The following audit criteria were used to conduct the audit:

Audit Sub-Objectives Audit Criteria
Sub-objective 1:
To determine whether an adequate governance structure is in place to foster a harassment-free workplace.
1.1 It is expected that roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for harassment prevention and resolution are clearly documented, communicated and understood.
1.2 It is expected that harassment prevention and resolution policies and procedures are clearly defined and documented.
1.3 It is expected that harassment prevention initiatives and harassment resolution processes are administered in accordance with applicable legislation and Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada policy instruments.
Sub-objective 2:
To determine whether adequate harassment prevention strategies and tools are implemented and clearly communicated.
2.1  It is expected that employees have been given opportunities to learn about harassment prevention strategies, the harassment complaint process and their right to a harassment-free workplace.
2.2 It is expected that management actively fosters a harassment-free workplace by undertaking preventive activities and promoting respectful behaviour.
2.3 It is expected that management monitors workplace harassment and that results and outcomes are formally reported to senior management on a regular basis.
Sub-objective 3:
To determine whether adequate and confidential resolution processes and tools have been implemented.
3.1 It is expected that confidential channels of communication exist for individuals to report incidents of harassment in the workplace.
3.2 It is expected that managers are adequately trained and equipped to detect and address incidents of harassment in the workplace.
3.3 It is expected that there is an adequate, timely, and confidential harassment resolution process.
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