(Barrie, ON) Over the course of the last eight weeks, City Council met on several occasions with respect to a workplace investigation matter involving a Councillor. Council takes allegations of harassment very seriously and wish to be clear that it directed that City personnel take appropriate steps in accordance with City policies, by-laws and procedures to address the matter, and that resolution has been concluded in a manner that respected the request of the employee in this case as well as the process which governs all employers. Council has maintained an unwavering commitment to respect the employee's own request for privacy throughout the process. However, Council's adherence to their expectation of confidentiality has meant and resulted in a limited ability to share details and action concerning this matter. This does not and should not be taken to mean that Council has not been acting diligently on the matter.
On October 20th, General Committee voted to not extend the time permitted for a complaint to be submitted to the Integrity Commissioner beyond the timeline specified within the Code of Conduct. Also that night, General Committee voted on a motion to receive legal advice on the matter. While that motion at General Committee was also not passed, a revised motion was unanimously passed at City Council on October 26th to seek legal advice to continue the process. At no time did Council vote to suspend, block, or slow down an investigation of this matter.
The following public motions were passed by Council over the past eight weeks:
Motion passed by General Committee on October 20, 2020
20-G-174 WORKPLACE INVESTIGATION
1. That Staff Report HRS002-20 concerning confidential personal information and advice that is subject to solicitor client privilege matters concerning a workplace harassment investigation, be received.
2. That the Director of Human Resources and City Clerk in consultation with the Integrity Commissioner and Legal Counsel be authorized to amend the Violence in the Workplace and Workplace Human Rights Procedures to remove the language identifying roles and responsibilities for City Council and staff in the investigation process associated with complaint allegations involving Council and Committee members.
3. That the City Clerk in consultation with Integrity Commissioner and Legal Counsel review the Council and Committee Member Code of Conduct and report back to General Committee regarding amendments that may be required to provide clarification of roles and responsibilities of the Integrity Commissioner associated with complaints concerning members of Council and Committees related to workplace violence or harassment. (HRS002-20) (File: H00)
An amended motion 20-G-174 was passed by City Council on October 26, 2020
20-G-174 WORKPLACE INVESTIGATION That Staff Report HRS002-20 concerning confidential personal information and advice that is subject to solicitor client privilege matters concerning a workplace investigation, be received.
That the Director of Human Resources and City Clerk in consultation with the Integrity Commissioner and Legal Counsel be authorized to amend the Violence in the Workplace and Workplace Human Rights Procedures to remove the language identifying roles and responsibilities for City Council and staff in the investigation process associated with complaint allegations involving Council and Committee members.
That the City Clerk in consultation with Integrity Commissioner and Legal Counsel review the Council and Committee Member Code of Conduct and report back to General Committee regarding amendments that may be required to provide clarification of roles and responsibilities of the Integrity Commissioner associated with complaints concerning members of Council and Committees related to workplace violence or harassment.
That external legal counsel be retained to provide advice to General Committee on alternative actions and related risks regarding the matter discussed in confidential Staff Report HRS002-20 and that this information on alternative action and related risks only be circulated to members not directly associated with the matter.
That an external party(s) with expertise in human resources and municipal law be retained to review staff's handling of the complaint as outlined in confidential Staff Report HRS002-20 with a report back to General Committee on possible changes to policy and procedures on how complaints are dealt with in the future.
That the City's Integrity Commissioner be consulted by City staff on the choice of the external parties in paragraphs 4 and 5 and that City Council approve the choice.
That City Council and City staff be encouraged to participate in the national survey on workplace harassment and violence, “Respect in the Workplace" being conducted by the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University.
That Council condemns all forms of harassment and are ensuring by this motion that all out of date workplace policies are updated to align these policies with the role of the Integrity Commissioner. (HRS002-20) (File: H00)
Motion passed by City Council on October 29, 2020
20-A-107 RETAINING SERVICES OF AIRD & BERLIS LLP
Moved by: Deputy Mayor, B. Ward Seconded by: Councilor, R. Thomson
1. That Aird & Berlis be retained to address matters identified in paragraph #4 and #5 of motion 20-G-174 concerning a workplace investigation;
2. That the costs associated with the legal advice be funded from the Council - Contracted Services Account, and the costs for the review be funded from the CAO - Contracted Services Account;
3. That the Mayor be delegated authority to execute the retainer agreements with Aird & Berlis for their services;
4. Upon completion of the preparation of the legal advice and the review, Aird & Berlis provide these documents directly to Council through the City Clerk.
Motion passed by City Council on November 30, 2020
20-G-200 WORKPLACE INVESTIGATION
That staff in the Legal Services Department and/or representatives of Aird & Berlis LLP undertake the actions required to implement the confidential direction provided at the November 23, 2020 General Committee Meeting.
Motion passed by City Council on December 15, 2020
20-G-254 WORKPLACE INVESTIGATION
1. That Aird Berlis and City staff be authorized to finalize the minutes of settlement as discussed at the confidential General Committee Meeting of December 15, 2020 subject to reasonable modifications.
2. That the Mayor and City Clerk be authorized to execute minutes of settlement and other associated documentation to give effect to the settlement.
On December 21, 2020 Council received legal advice regarding corrective actions that could be taken regarding this matter, and tonight passed the following motion:
Motion passed by City Council on December 21, 2020
20-G-257 WORKPLACE INVESTIGATION
That the following corrective actions be undertaken in response to the workplace investigation identified in Staff Report HRS002-20:
1. The respondent undertake training relative to workplace violence and harassment, to be funded by the City, and that training be approved by the City CAO and/or the director of Human Resource.
2. That going forward the respondent be required to strictly comply with the City's Staff Council Relations Policy, and only make contact with staff through the appropriate management; and
3. That the respondent be requested to issue a written apology to the complainant, if requested, and Council for the respondent's conduct.
In addition, other actions were considered and will be taken, which include the following:
Procedural actions undertaken by City staff under its current policies will be reviewed and addressed as necessary. Changes will be made to ensure improvements are implemented by city staff in respect of future complaint review and investigation procedure. These include updating timelines for investigation and upstream reporting, and ensuring that Human Resources policies and procedures will be revised to address any required amendments.
In addition, the allegations of procedural irregularities in the handling of the complaint by City staff have now been settled between the City and the employee. As part of the resolution, details are to remain confidential to protect the privacy of the employee and discussions regarding same.
External legal counsel with expertise in human resources and municipal law has been retained to review City staff's handling of the complaint and will include recommendations on possible further changes to policy and procedures on how complaints are dealt with in the future. It is expected that this work will be conducted in early 2021 with a report back to Council at that time.
Please direct all questions to Rebecca James-Reid, Executive Director Access Barrie.
For more information, please contact:
Rebecca James-Reid, Executive Director Access Barrie