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Allegations of interference go to Labour Relations Board

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UFV and the Faculty and Staff Association (FSA) must agree upon a way to deal with an intra-FSA bullying and harassment complaint, as decided by the Labour Relations Board (LRB) on Feb. 9, 2018.

The hearing was initiated by the FSA, an internal union, and the official collective bargaining agent for UFV employees. The FSA said the university had interfered with the administration of the FSA through an investigations of harassment complaints.

In the final ruling, LRB vice-chair Koml Kandola considered both the university’s obligation to maintain a workplace free of bullying and harassment, and the FSA’s need to protect confidential correspondances and documents.

Kandola ruled that while the university overreached in its investigations, and was unable to present evidence of its necessity to immediately conduct a full investigation, it was likely not in malice.

“I accept that the university has a legitimate interest in seeking to ensure it has a harmonious, harassment-free workplace,” Kandola said.

“[T]he university did not present any authority for its assertion that failure to conduct a full and formal investigation of the Complaints in the circumstances would result in sanction by WorkSafeBC.”

Kandola concluded that it was “difficult to imagine” the investigations proceeding without revealing confidential FSA information.

History

In November, the university began harassment investigations of three FSA executives based on written complaints from the two FSA administrators, who are also university employees, but were on full release from their primary positions with the university in order to serve as the FSA’s faculty and staff contract administrators, according to the hearing decision issued by the LRB.

The LRB ruled that UFV overreached in investigations of recent harassment allegations, and that UFV violated the Discrimination, Bullying, and Harassment Policy, which applies to all members of the university community engaged in university-related activities.

The FSA requested an immediate stop to the investigation, stating that the complaints involved confidential internal FSA information.

They also requested the university allow them to retrieve confidential FSA documents, and information from the complainants’ offices. The complainants had gone on sick leave with no return date at the time of the complaints.

The university delayed FSA access to the offices, saying over email that allowing the FSA to enter may violate the privacy of the two complainants. The offices are located on campus, and were provided by the university for FSA workers.

The FSA claimed that the university refusal to cease investigations “was interfering with the administration of the union, and engaging in intimidating and threatening conduct.”

“It is regrettable that the university administration elected to pursue a course of action that failed to respect the interests of the FSA,” Sean Parkinson, president of the FSA, said in an email. “The Faculty and Staff Association was forced to initiate a cease and desist order and, later, pursue a complaint with the Labour Relations Board for interfering in a trade union.

Dave Pinton, UFV’s director of communications, said over email that the university would not comment at this time.

“At this point, we’re not offering any further comment as we work together on the LRB matter,” Pinton said.

According to the LRB decision, “In letters dated November 21 and 22, 2017, counsel for the FSA wrote to the university president, demanding the university immediately cease and desist its investigations of the FSA executives.”

The university’s delay in releasing the confidential files and property from the complainant offices also interfered with the administration of the trade union, as did the delay to grant release time to replace the two FSA members on sick leave.

Kandola encouraged the university and the FSA to use the assistance of a investigating officer of the board to determine how they wished to proceed, and determine an appropriate method for addressing harassment complaints from within the FSA.

“In such circumstances, I find it is most appropriate to let the parties attempt to mutually determine the appropriate steps in this regard,” Kandola said.

“We hope that this ruling from the LRB helps to clarify important and necessary boundaries that will enable both organizations to work more effectively with one another,” said Parkinson.

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