WestJet has shortcomings in its workplace harassment policies, according to a third-party review launched after a former flight attendant alleged the company covered up for a pilot who she says sexually assaulted her.

The Calgary-based airline hired Ernst & Young earlier this year to conduct the independent review of its respect in the workplace policy and practices after Mandalena Lewis sued the company, claiming she was sexually assaulted by a pilot six years ago during a layover.

Lewis alleges the airline protected the pilot and fired her after she spoke out. She also filed a second lawsuit against the company in April, this one a proposed class action claiming WestJet has failed to create a safe work environment for female flight attendants.

​WestJet has denied the allegations, saying Lewis was fired for other reasons and the pilot was disciplined.

The report released Thursday found that WestJet's workplace policy and practices hadn't been updated in almost 10 years.

It also found staff were not properly trained or educated about the policy.

As well, issues were not being properly tracked and monitored and no followup actions were being taken, the report said.

Mandalena Lewis

Mandalena Lewis, a former WestJet employee, is suing the airline, which she alleges did not properly investigate her sexual assault allegation against a pilot. (Ioanna Roumeliotis/CBC)

'It has confirmed my fears,' says former flight attendant

Lewis said the review validates her view that the company is failing to protect its employees.

"It has confirmed my fears of the systemic issues that have been going on at WestJet, their failure to protect women," Lewis said.

She commended the company for undertaking the review, but called it a "scratch-and-sniff" effort that did not delve into any individual harassment complaints.

"Employees are hurting each other and there's a complete lack of accountability here," Lewis said. "The fact that they did receive such a failing grade in this limited mandate is incredibly revealing."

WestJet report makes 5 recommendations

The report made the following five recommendations:

  • Update and fully implement the respect in the workplace policy and practices.
  • Design and deliver formal respect in the workplace communication, education and training to all employees.
  • Increase accountability of the people relations team for the application of the policy, including regular reporting of policy compliance and respect in the workplace performance metrics to the WestJet board.
  • Formalize data capture and document management processes.
  • Increase accessibility to respect in the workplace policies, guidance and resources.

Through consultations, Ernst & Young mentioned that it "observed a culture of caring and noted the general intention of staff was to do the right thing."

WestJet 'fully committed' to recommendations, CEO says

WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsky said the company welcomes the report and has already started to implement some of the recommendations.

"We are fully committed to implementing the recommendations and, in fact, have already started to do so. There is always room for improvement and we look forward to following the path laid out in this report," said Saretsky.

Because of the legal proceedings, WestJet said it wouldn't provide further comment. 

Corporate watchdog says report 'very critical'

Emma Pullman, lead campaign strategist with SumOfUs.org, a global corporate accountability organization, said the report was damning.

"It's only 13 pages long and there's a lot of careful corporate language, but the actual nuts and bolts of this report are very critical of WestJet's performance," Pullman said.

"The company failed its audit is the bottom line of what this report shows."

Pullman notes that on four out of five measures, WestJet "scored the lowest possible score it could and on the fifth matrix it scored a middle-of-the-road score."

Saretsky indicated during the spring annual general meeting that the company took creating a safe work environment seriously, but it also considered itself best in class, Pullman said. 

"But this report actually quite seriously shows that WestJet is not top of class, but that it's bottom of the class."

What also troubles her about the report is that, "Ernst & Young was able to arrive at this very critical assessment of WestJet and its performance with regards to creating a safe work environment without having spoken to individual complainants or actually reviewing sexual harassment files."

She wonders what Ernst & Young would have found if it had been given access to those files.  

"That is a big question that employees at WestJet and the public should be asking right now."

A link to the report can be found here

With files from The Canadian Press