One of the biggest challenges facing municipal employers in Saskatchewan is how to respond to harassment in the workplace. Workplace harassment demands strong condemnation, yet legal and ethical landmines are still present. As a result, municipalities must be aware of their obligations when it comes to managing potential issues relating to harassment in the workplace.
Municipal employers, like other Saskatchewan employers, have a duty to provide a safe and respectful workplace free from discrimination and harassment. Although municipalities may operate differently from regular employers in certain regards, provincial legislation requires municipal employers to have a written harassment policy.
What makes municipalities unique, however, is that not all of the individuals within the workplace are employees of the municipality. Elected officials, while often fulfilling their duties at a municipality office, are not employees of the municipality.
Municipalities must understand that their obligation to provide safe and respectful workplaces reaches beyond interactions between employees. Where an employee of a municipality alleges harassment involving an elected official, the municipal employer’s obligations remain in place; however, the procedure for responding to a harassment complaint involving an elected official will likely take a different form.
The Municipalities Act of Saskatchewan requires that every municipality adopt a code of ethics which defines the standards and values expected of members of council in their dealings with each other, employees of the municipality and the public. Municipalities must also set out the process for dealing with contraventions of the code of ethics. The Municipalities Act allows a municipality’s code of ethics to include rules regarding the censure and suspension of a member of council who contravenes the code of ethics.
To mitigate the risks associated with workplace harassment, a municipality should ensure that it has a written harassment policy in place and a process for reporting and handling allegations of employee harassment in the workplace. It is also important for the municipality to have a process in place established under its Code of Ethics Bylaw for harassment complaints involving elected officials.
Additionally, a municipality should ensure that its employees and elected officials are aware of its harassment policy and Code of Ethics Bylaw and understand what constitutes harassment.
Finally, in addressing workplace harassment complaints, it is important for a municipality to follow the appropriate procedures prescribed in its harassment policy or Code of Ethics Bylaw, depending on the circumstances of the harassment complaint.
Takeaways for Municipal Employers
If an employee alleges that they have experienced harassment in the workplace, municipal employers should ensure that they are following the applicable procedures in place, depending on the individual named in the harassment complaint:
- Where an employee alleges that they have experienced harassment by another employee, a municipal employer may follow its procedures established in its harassment policy.
- Where an employee alleges that they have experienced harassment by an elected official such as a council member, following the procedure set out in the municipality’s harassment policy may be appropriate in certain circumstances; however, it may not allow the municipality to sanction elected officials if harassment is found.
- Where a municipality’s code of ethics bylaw allows the municipality to censure or suspend a member of council who contravenes the code of ethics bylaw, following the procedure established by the bylaw may allow the municipality to sanction elected officials if harassment is found.
Regardless of whether an employee raises an allegation of harassment involving another employee of the municipality or an elected official, municipal employers must uphold their obligation to provide employees with harassment-free workplaces. Municipal employers must follow the applicable policies and procedures they have in place, and conduct an adequate workplace investigation, where required.
Are you a municipal employer in Saskatchewan looking for help managing or proactively planning for workplace harassment complaints or investigations? Check out the upcoming Municipalities of Saskatchewan “Harassment and Disputes: How to Handle Conflict in Your Municipality” workshop sponsored by MLT Aikins. Municipal lawyer Jana Linner will be presenting on how to resolve disputes and outline the steps your municipality can take to ensure a harassment free workplace. Learn more about the workshop.
Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.