Union files grievance over 'poisoned' workplace

Said culture so bad, woman forced to leave for extended period of time

THE Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 227 filed a grievance against the Halifax Regional Water Commission accusing the employer of failing to provide a safe work environment free from harassment.

The grievance was filed on behalf of an employee — referred to as “AB” — and alleged the employer allowed a poisoned work environment to grow despite receiving complaints from AB. According to the union, the culture became so bad, she was forced to leave the workplace for an extended period of time.

As a result, the union requested AB be compensated for all sick leave, vacation pay and income lost during her time away from work, as well as damages.

AB worked as a process technician for the employer, working alongside colleagues “MDO,” “SGI” and “JP.” According to AB, her co-workers were reluctant to train her as she had obtained the position through grievance, and they felt she didn’t deserve the job. AB said her suggestions and questions were ignored, due to what she felt were MDO and SGI’s “chauvinist” attitudes.

After several months, AB told management that if there was a possibility of a shift change, she would like to take it. Almost a year after taking over the technician position, AB’s physician referred her for psychological counseling due to stress from her job and personal relationships.

In a confrontation between AB and SGI, SGI said he did not feel comfortable training AB because he considered her a safety hazard. AB believed SGI saw her as a hazard because she was a woman, while SGI testified he was referring to an injury she had suffered that required accommodation.

AB reported the confrontation to management, and meetings were called with the employer, union, AB, SGI and MDO.

According to MDO, AB was very aggressive and constantly criticizing him. She was constantly making notes and reporting his actions to management. He felt she was trying to damage his career and therefore attempted to avoid her in the workplace.

SGI said he felt the tension between the employees was simply the result of a personality clash. As a result, small things such as room temperature led to big arguments and hard feelings. Despite the meetings with the union, confrontations continued to occur.

On July 6, 2012, AB had a note from her physician certifying she was unable to attend work for medical reasons and she would return to workon Aug. 6.  On July 22, AB signed a formal complaint about the workplace environment and requested a formal investigation.

According to the grievor, the investigation only caused her more stress and worsened her mental and emotional health. The investigation did find that SGI and MDO acted inappropriately and against the employer’s harassment policy. As a result, plans were made to transfer AB to another shift.

Arbitrator Augustus Richardson, however, was not convinced the actions of SGI and MDO constituted harassment or bullying.

“The disputes… are more representative of children’s squabbles in a sandbox than they are of adults working co-operatively in a team,” he said. “Some of it might amount to disrespectful behaviour. But more of it was simply an attempt by strong-willed individuals who were set in their ways to continue to have what they were accustomed to having, rather than to compromise.”

While MDO and SGI failed to welcome AB onto the workplace and dragged their feet with respect to training her, AB also played a part in the dysfunctional workplace. As a result, Richardson was unable to find that the employer violated any provision of the collective agreement with regards to an alleged “poisoned workplace” and the grievance was dismissed.

Reference: Halifax Regional Water Commission and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 227. Augustus M. Richardson — arbitrator. John. C. MacPherson for the employer, Karen Mackenzie for the union. Feb. 21, 2016.


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