The University and all members of the University community share responsibility for ensuring that the work and study environment at UBC is free from discrimination and harassment. Administrative Heads of Units bear the primary responsibility for maintaining a study and work environment free from discrimination and harassment. An Administrative Head of Unit is the Director of a service unit; Head of an academic department; Director of a centre, institute or school; Principal of a college; Dean; Associate Vice President; University Librarian; Registrar; Vice President; or President.
Tips for Managers Working with Complainants
Begin by letting the complainant tell his/her story in their own words.
Use the technique of reflective listening to aid this process. Reflective listening helps keep a conversation flowing without providing judgements regarding what is being discussed. It also provides a means of verifying what was said so that the manager’s interpretations and notes will be accurate.
Reflective listening involves:
- summarizing what the complainant is saying
- the summary should be purely descriptive (“so, you heard him say…”)
- the summary should be brief and should prompt the interviewee to continue
Use open-ended, neutral questions to gather additional information.
Good questions elicit more information about the situation, what happened, what are the consequences for the individual, and what is currently happening. Do not ask a question that may be heard as questioning the integrity of the interviewee (e.g., what were you wearing when he asked you out?).
Validate feelings, not the described events.
People’s feelings should be taken at face value, and should not be discounted. If expressed feelings (i.e., I’m very afraid of him) may appear to be extreme at times, simply note them. Managers must remain objective, while also being supportive.
Managers should try to remain neutral and avoid statements that appear to make judgements. To illustrate, in response to a described incident, instead of commenting “we will not tolerate that behaviour,” you could respond “the behaviour you describe certainly cannot be tolerated.” The former may be interpreted as verification of the events described, whereas the latter is more neutral.
In most situations of harassment, complainants need time to gather their thoughts and express them so the full picture is told. Furthermore, complainants are usually intimidated by coming forward and may not know exactly what they want to say. Allowing a complainant time to tell his/her story shows support. Do not proceed from one stage to the next until you are confident that you have a good understanding of the situation.
When reviewing next steps, present all available options for seeking resolution.
Refer to the Policy on Discrimination and Harassment, as well as any other relevant policies. Talk about the importance of confidentiality on the part of all parties involved in the concern.
When discussing possible resolutions, outline the advantages and disadvantages of different options, but try to let the complainant make the decision of how to proceed. Exceptions to this guideline include situations where you believe the complainant and/or others may be at risk. In those situations, you have a legal obligation to take appropriate action in a timely way.
Tips for Managers Working with Respondents
Where appropriate, invite union or employee group participation.
Begin the meeting with a respondent by discussing the purpose of the meeting.
You may want to outline:
- The type of process you are employing in addressing the complaint brought to you
- The nature of the allegations against the respondent
- The goals of this meeting (hearing from him or her, exploring ways to resolve the concerns brought forward)
- Be clear that you have not formed any judgements regarding the merits of the complaint
Present the allegations to the respondent.
The description of the allegations should be clear, concise and non-judgmental. The manager should indicate that the allegations come from the complainant, but, if true, are also of concern to management. In addition, refer to the UBC’s Policy on Discrimination & Harassment (PDF), as well as any other policies.
Offer the respondent an opportunity to respond.
Ask the respondent to tell her/his side of the situation. You want to keep the focus of the discussion on the conduct of the respondent (e.g., what did she or he do, what did she or he observe, what explanation does she or he have) and not what others may be doing. Use the same interview techniques as with the complainant to obtain the full picture of the events. Do not position yourself with either the complainant or the respondent. Be careful not to begin debating with the respondent the merits of the complaint.
Take a few moments to review what you have heard and then decide how to proceed next.
You may wish to continue by presenting some suggestions for resolution. You may want some time to reflect on the issues yourself, so should schedule another meeting.
Make sure the issues of confidentiality and retaliation are discussed.
Talk about the importance of confidentiality on the part of all parties involved in the concern.
Remind the respondent to avoid any behaviour that might be perceived as retaliation for the complaint. Be clear about how the respondent should conduct him/herself now that there is a complaint.
Set specific limits if necessary. For example, the complainant may not want any contact with the respondent until the issue is resolved. Even when the respondent wants to apologize for his or her conduct, first ensure that the complainant is willing to have direct contact.