The Changing Face of Workplace Conflict Management

A Fundamental Shift in Workplace Conflict Management

By Blaine Donais, B.A., LL.B, LL.M., RPDR, C.Med

About nine years ago, when I taught my students at the York University Mediation program and the University of Toronto Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources at the University of Toronto, I used to state: “harassment is not illegal as long as there is no prohibited ground.” Laws in both provincial and federal jurisdictions for Ontario workplaces covering “harassment” were very limited. They arose out of human rights legislation: the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canada Human Rights Act. This legislation only restricted harassment on the basis of a protected ground such as sex, religion, country of origin or family status.

Since then the world of work has fundamentally changed. The tragedies in Hotel Dieu Hospital in Windsor and OC Transpo in Ottawa led to Bill 168 in 2010: an amendment to Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act legislation which required employers for the first time to develop, roll-out and frequently review workplace policy aimed at dealing with workplace harassment. This legislation did not distinguish between groups of workers. The polices mandated under this legislation were meant to cover all forms of harassment whether or not it was on the basis of a prohibited ground.

More recently in 2016, the #metoo movement and the Gomeshi case has led to a further obligations being placed on employers to make sure that incidents of harassment and sexual harassment are investigated using a competent investigator. Just this year, the Federal Government has followed suit by enacting Bill C-65 which would more or less replicate the provincial jurisdiction obligations.

These changes have led to a fundamental shift in the way that conflict is managed in the workplace. Organizations are now required to investigate each incident of harassment that they are aware of. This means that the cost of unresolved conflict is growing steadily. Many investigators are now recognizing that unresolved conflict festers and contributes to a poisoned atmosphere in the workplace that is a breeding ground for harassment. Often they recommend Workplace Restoration as a way of dealing with the trauma that has been created in a workplace where there has been harassment.

This has led two significant developments in workplace conflict management in Ontario (and across the country). First, there is a sharp rise in demand for Workplace Restoration. This is a process where the facilitator offers numerous restorative interventions to help heal the trauma in the workplace. Many organizations are seeking out experts in Workplace Restoration to help them move past the harassment and its fallout in the workplace.

The second development is that many organizational leaders are taking a new look at more proactive measures for dealing with conflict in the workplace that could lead to harassment. Some have looked to the Psychological Health and Safety Standard (enacted in 2010 by the National Standards Association). Others have looked to a process called “Workplace Health Assessments” for ways of getting out in front of conflict before they turn into harassment.

The Workplace Fairness Institute, in conjunction with the ADR Institute of Ontario, is offering a 5 day course for workplace practitioners that will help them prepare for both Workplace Restorations and Workplace Health Assessments. This course will be offered in Toronto through the ADR Institute from November 12 – 16, 2018. Last year the course was delivered to 25 practitioners and aspiring practitioners from around the country. It has been so highly recommended that Federal Government departments are now seeking to have this training performed in-house for their practitioners of Informal Conflict Management.

This is a highly interactive program that delivers best practices in these emerging fields. The instructors are recognized as industry leaders in these areas and have performed dozens of workplace restorations and workplace health assessments.

Here is what some of the last year’s attendees have said about the course:

“Attending the Workplace Fairness Certification workshop was time and money well spent. The instructor(s) are outstanding. Quality resource materials were provided and there was very interesting discussion generated amongst the participants. A professionally framed certificate is presented at the end of the workshop.”

“The event was well organized and both facilitators were excellent. The atmosphere was lively and engaging. Both speakers were incredibly knowledgeable and did extremely well educating the participants while encouraging participation and interaction throughout…I have attended workshops where I left feeling exhausted because I was not made to feel entirely comfortable, but this was not the case with Blaine and Marjorie. I would attend any of their future offerings in a heartbeat!”

Top 5 Reasons to Attend:

1. Prepare for the new wave of workplace mediation.

2. Understand how workplace culture and conflict works.

3. Improve workplace health.

4. Gain recognition from WFI and ADRIO.

5. Learn how to turn around a workplace in crisis.

For further details and to enroll in this program see: www.adr-ontario.ca/wfa

Video message from Blaine Donais: