Hundreds of municipal staff say they've been mistreated at work—here's what the city wants to do about it

A report from Toronto law firm Rubin Thomlinson LLP has made a laundry list of recommendations to the city of London, including hiring an ombudsperson and simplifying its policies around harassment. The report will go before the city's corporate services committee Tuesday, March 19.

The city of London has wrapped up its third-party investigation into internal harassment and discrimination

Toronto law firm Rubin Thomlinson LLP has presented the city of London with a laundry list of recommendations to address its harassment problems, including hiring an ombudsperson and providing managers with better training. (Geoff Robins/Canadian Press)

A report from the Toronto law firm tasked with investigating harassment at the City of London has found that nearly 400 city employees say they've been harassed, discriminated against, bullied, intimidated or experienced reprisal in the workplace.

Staff at Rubin Thomlinson LLP sent surveys to 3800 city of London employees, and received 779 back. Of those responses, 383 current and former employees confirmed that they'd experienced this type of behaviour.

Intimidation was the most common behaviour experienced by city staff, followed by bullying and harassment, the report found.

Many employees also pointed to problems with the complaint process itself. One person called the process "exhausting" and said they didn't feel supported during the investigation; another said despite reporting "appalling" verbal harassment to their manager and to HR, nothing ever came of it.

"What's loud and clear is people were unhappy with the processes and the policies, they were difficult to navigate and that's an area of priority we're going to get at right away," said Bill Coxhead, managing director of corporate services and chief human resources officer for the city.

The city is now faced with a laundry list of recommendations to address its various harassment-related problems. According to the law firm's report, the city should:

  • Combine its policies around harassment, bullying and other associated behaviours into a single Respectful Workplace Policy, with a single process for raising complaints.
  • Improve the timeliness of and communication around the complaint process.
  • Better prepare managers to deal with bad behaviour.
  • Hire a neutral, independent ombudsperson to act as a confidential resource for employees.
  • Create greater transparency around investigations.
  • Address employees' fears of reprisal for speaking out.

If the report is approved by council, city staff are expected to develop a plan of action to address the recommendations in the next three months.

2018 reckoning

The Rubin Thomlinson investigation was initiated after a number of city staff came forward to the London Abused Women's Centre (LAWC) about workplace harassment last year.

In just one week, the LAWC received 68 calls from city staff, according to the organization's executive director Megan Walker. Several complaints came from staff at the London Fire Department.

In response to findings from the Rubin Thomlinson report, Coxhead said he couldn't comment on which city departments generated the most complaints. Coxhead said he also didn't know how many of the complainants were women.

Still, Coxhead said he isn't troubled by the lack of specificity in the report, and said he thinks the recommendations will serve all departments equally.

"What's good for any one individual in the organization is good for the entire organization," said Coxhead.

"What we're concerned with is making the necessary changes for anyone to get out from under any difficult situations they may be experiencing, and to create an environment with a respectful workplace."

The report goes to the city's corporate services committee for initial approval Tuesday, March 19.