Many workers don't know what to do about workplace issues, Winnipeg HR expert says — these are her tips

As workplace harassment allegations surface on social media against Winnipeg restaurant chain Stella's, a Winnipeg human resource professional says many employees in similar situations across the city often don't know where to turn if they have concerns about their workplace.

More than 275 reports of workplace incidents shared on Instagram about Stella's Cafe in recent days

More than 275 disclosures of workplace incidents at Stella's Cafe have been shared on social media since the account Not My Stella's surfaced last week. (Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press)

As workplace harassment allegations surface on social media against Winnipeg restaurant chain Stella's, a Winnipeg human resource professional says many employees in similar situations don't know where to turn if they have concerns about their workplace.

"I think more people, more employees, are knowing what their rights are — but maybe aren't exactly sure in terms of what's the best course of action," said Diana Wiesenthal, who runs Winnipeg-based human resources firm Corporate People Responsibility.

It's important for employees and employers alike to know how to deal with issues at work, she said.

"Workplaces can make people sick. And that affects their families and that affects our communities — it's just a negative spin, right?"

Wiesenthal spoke to CBC News after allegations of workplace incidents at Stella's Cafe erupted on social media, led by an Instagram account called Not My Stella's.

Since the account surfaced last week, more than 275 disclosures of workplace incidents have been shared under the same tag.

Two Stella's executives, Brad Burrows and Grant Anderson, have been placed on an indefinite leave of absence pending an investigation. The local chain has also hired People First, a human resources company, to review their policies and procedures on workplace safety.

Two executives have been placed on indefinite leave at Stella's Cafe to ensure the integrity of an independent investigation, the company said Monday. (Ron Boileau/CBC)

Since 2015, Manitoba Employment Standards has received 11 claims filed against Stella's, a provincial spokesperson said in an email. Ten of them were resolved voluntarily, the spokesperson said, but one remains active.

Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health got one complaint of harassment against the restaurant chain in the past year, which was made in November 2017. A provincial spokesperson said the claim was investigated and it was determined the employer had a harassment policy in place and had investigated the incident itself, as per provincial law.

"[Workplace Safety and Health] and Employment Standards have been made aware of the allegations against Stella's through the recent social media posts and will be contacting the employer to ensure appropriate steps are taken to address the issues raised," the spokesperson wrote.

For employees at other businesses who have had bad experiences at work, Wiesenthal shared tips on how to deal with concerns.

Seek out HR, think about your goal

The first step to address issues in the workplace is education, Wiesenthal said — for employees and employers alike.

If you're the former, Wiesenthal said your first move should be to seek out somebody to talk to within the organization. If it's a manager or supervisor, you can choose to go in a group or alone, whatever makes you most comfortable.

"If you're not comfortable with your direct manager for whatever reason, if there's an HR department, go to the HR department," she said. "There's trained professionals there that are equipped to help and to guide people through these situations."

Diana Wiesenthal, head of Corporate People Responsibility, says many workers don't know where to turn if they have concerns at work. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Not all organizations have HR experts on staff, though, especially smaller businesses. In that case, Wiesenthal said you can seek out community resources, or go through provincial bodies including Workplace Safety and Health and Manitoba Employment Standards.

Employees can contact Employment Standards by phone at 204-945-3352 us or go in person at 604-401 York Ave.

If you talk to somebody, Wiesenthal said it's important to make sure you know what your own goals are and what you hope will come out of the process.

"It's always one where you need to really think about what the process is, what the goal is in terms of what the outcome is that you want and making sure that it's collaborative."

If you do find yourself in the position where your hands are tied — maybe you have nobody to talk to at work, or the provincial bodies didn't satisfy your concerns — Wiesenthal advised caution around choosing to use social media.

"If you don't have any alternative, it's a powerful tool and it gets results. You can't argue with that," Wiesenthal said.

"I'm not sure that it's the most effective in terms of building working relationships within the organization, because once those relationships and the trust has been broken, it's very hard to rebuild that."

With files from Holly Caruk