The harassment and bullying of any employee for any reason is wrong.
Yes, it IS that simple.
While some managers pay lip service to this fact, their ongoing actions and behaviour continue to demonstrate they are complicit in this unprofessional, harmful, and ethically corrupt behaviour.
This results in organizations that spend a ridiculous amount of time and resources trying to show they did nothing wrong rather than taking ownership for the undesirable behaviour and fix it..
This has been the case until recently within Fire Services in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Systemic Discrimination in Halifax's Fire Services
As reported by the Canadian Broadcast Corp. (CBC), municipal officials in Halifax are expected to make an official apology to former firefighter Liane Tessier as part of a settlement agreement marking the completion of Tessier's 12-year legal battle against the municipality and its Fire Services.
Over a decade ago now, Tessier revealed the systemic "demeaning and abusive behaviour" she and her fellow female firefighters were subjected to.
Rather than do the "right" thing, which would have been to carry out an honest, in depth investigation and then take steps to neutralize those guilty of the harassment, Tessier was "ostracized and labeled a trouble-maker" by management.
Too Little Too Late?
Refusing to roll over and give up, Tessier launched a human rights complaint.
The settlement agreed to by both Tessier and Halifax precedes her scheduled public hearing into her human rights complaint.
The question is, why did it take municipal officials 12 years and a human rights complaint against them to finally be willing to acknowledge "that there is a systemic issue within the fire service concerning the treatment of female firefighters"?
The 2% Factor is regularly engaged by organizations to investigate such complaints of workplace mistreatment, harassment, and bullying...
So we KNOW that it doesn't take 12 years to find out the truth about what is actually going on.
Of course, if officials within Fire Services and the municipality don't want to find out the truth...
Or they already know (or strongly suspect) the truth and want to bury it...
They will abdicate their decision-making to lawyers (who have a strong incentive to keep the legal battle going) rather than give their heads a shake, realize they are on the wrong side of "right" and finally do the right thing.
They question is, why?
Why Fight Doing The Right Thing For 12 Years?
A basic principle of The 2% Factor is that 98% of people are good, moral, ethical people who want to do the right thing.
So, why would these good, moral, and ethical municipal officials CHOOSE to carry on a fight when they very likely know what is really going on?
(NOTE: In almost every investigation The 2% Factor has conducted into workplace harassment and bullying, management already knew, or strongly suspected, what was going on...it was simply easier to do nothing and hope the problem went away on its own than to take decisive action and show true leadership.)
The true reasons underlying the decision to continue fighting against the accusations of systemic gender discrimination within Fire Services is not public knowledge...
But, after conducting numerous similar investigations, here a some of the most common reasons we have found, based on our experience.
- Management places too much value on the advice of lawyers whose job it is to focus on what management has the legal right to do rather than on what the right thing to do is.
- Management is afraid to take on those actually causing the problem and simply find it easier to take on, and fight against, a single person.
- If management admits wrong doing once, they are afraid they may have to do it many more times.
- Management allows their egos to get in the way and feel they must circle their wagons to defend themselves. (In these cases, the truth becomes irrelevant because management would deny and defend themselves regardless of how guilty they were).
- Management lacks sufficient professional integrity to admit their mistake and accept the consequences.
Now, I am not suggesting any of these were or were not the case with Halifax, only that these are common reasons.
What Management SHOULD Do If Accusations of Harassment & Bullying Are Made
If you are in management, what should you do to handle accusations of workplace harassment, bullying, and discrimination better than the municipality of Halifax did?
Here are a few key suggestions:
- First and foremost, take ALL accusations seriously. Whether you believe the accusations of harassment and bullying are valid or not, accept that the person making the accusation believes he or she was mistreated and harmed and their complaint needs to be investigated.
- Second, treat the person making the complaint with compassion. A person who feels mistreated has taken a great personal and professional risk to bring the mistreatment to your attention. Be empathetic and compassionate. Empathy and compassion aren't admissions of guilt. Nor do they require you to believe the complaint before conducting an investigation. Empathy and compassion merely show that you care about the well-being of the person raising the issue and acknowledge that THEY believe they have been harmed.
- Third, hire someone who is both qualified and external to organizational influences to conduct the interview. Sorry HR, but despite what you may want to believe, you are NOT unbiased. We have seen WAY too many investigations bungled unintentionally (and intentionally) by HR because they still know who signs their pay cheques.
- If, following an unbiased, objective, thorough investigation the accusations prove true...own the problem and fix it. The longer you continue to fight to defend yourself and the longer you try to hide the truth from getting out...the more damage you will cause your own reputation and that of the organization when the truth finally becomes public knowledge...and it ALWAYS comes out.
Acknowledging Workplace Bullying And Harassment Begins With A Single Decision
At some point, someone makes the decision to fight accusations of workplace mistreatment, regardless of the truth.
This means that, instead, the alternate decision to address the problem (if it exists) and fix it no matter what can also be made.
To us, not only does this reflect doing the right thing, but it also seems like a far better use of organizational resources.
How can you, as a manager, ensure you always make better, more effective, leadership decisions? The Law of Cooperative Action™ Professional Mastery Program will help. Learn more.