8 posts categorized "Human Rights"

March 4, 2018

Let’s Get Serious about Stopping Sexual Harassment

It is essential for all of us to have basic knowledge of human rights law, how it applies in our workplace, and what to do if there is a complaint.   In January 2018, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario granted a female retail worker one of its largest-ever damage awards. The facts of the case illustrate how much remains to be done in educating everyone in the workplace; individuals, people leaders, those with complaints, and those who observe harassment.

The award of $200,000 was “compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect” in the case B v. Joe Singer Shoes Limited.  The Tribunal found that the complainant was subjected to sexual harassment, sexual assault, racial discrimination, and a poisoned work environment.

The tribunal found that the male boss of the female complainant made fun of the complainant’s accent when speaking English, her skin colour, body, and country of origin. The boss described this as “jokes’’. The complainant was a single parent of a child with medical challenges who rented an apartment from her boss and lived above the retail store where she worked. In addition to the racist comments, the boss was found to have sexually assaulted and harassed the complainant in the workplace and in her apartment many times over the long years of her employment.

The complainant’s identity was not made public by the Tribunal and in the hearing, she was permitted to provide her evidence by video link from a separate room.

Factors considered by the Tribunal in deciding the amount of the award included the seriousness of the abuse, and that it was repeated for so many years. The complainant was vulnerable as a single parent, the sole support for her family, and as an immigrant. There was also a serious impact on the mental health of the complainant, including a diagnosis of PTSD.

In the past, the Tribunal’s general damage awards have been in the range of $20,000 to $30,000. The Tribunal has issued one other decision awarding comparable damage amounts to a complainant. In 2015 PT v Presteve Foods Ltd involved two immigrant women who experienced serious, repeated sexual harassment and were awarded $150,000 and $50,000 in damages.

Workplace sexual harassment persists in Ontario. In these recent cases, women, single parents, and people new to Canada were demonstrated to be at risk.

It remains to be seen whether these two decisions are the beginning of a new trend of higher awards by the Tribunal intended to discourage workplace sexual harassment. Is this another ripple from #MeToo?

Human rights laws are for the benefit of the whole community. From my point of view, the starting point is that everyone in the workplace needs to have basic knowledge of human rights, how to do their work within the law, and what to do if there is a complaint.

Then the next challenge is appropriate training to handle difficult conversations and manage workplace conflict to produce the work environment we want for everyone, including alignment with the values of human rights.

LAST CHANCE this spring to join us for Fundamentals of Mediation, our 40 hour, 5 day intensive mediation course. The next course dates are March 21, 22, 23, 26 and 27, 2018 in London, Ontario, Canada.

October 19, 2017

New Hybrid Dispute Resolution Process Supports Reconciliation with First Nations

What should First Nations do when disagreements arise about treaty rights?

The courts have been one possible means of resolving disagreements. Historically there is often little trust by First Nations in Canada’s justice system. 

Mediation has  been very useful for resolving disputes.  Compared with court proceedings the cost is much less and there is more control by the parties involved in the disagreement. However the setting, the format and the assumptions underlying conventional mediation may not fit comfortably for treaty disagreements.

An new hybrid dispute resolution process is described in a recent issue of Macleans magazine. Authors John Beaucage, Alicia Kuin, and Paul Iacono have developed a culturally sensitive team approach for resolution of disputes in support of reconciliation.

 The article describes two goals which are necessary to bridge the cultural gap and sort through many layers of conflict before problem solving occurs:

  1. To create an atmosphere and setting that is culturally appropriate for all of the parties to the dispute.
  2. To ensure that the dynamics of conflict involved in the dispute are given the space and time needed to be voiced.

The new hybrid process starts with meetings with members of the First Nation communities in their communities. In the second stage the representatives take part in four talking circles which include appropriate ceremonies.  The third stage consists of the representatives talking about solutions and ultimately writing out the parameters of their preferred solutions, which are then taken back to the communities. 

After these steps are completed with the communities, the second and third stages are repeated when all the members of the First Nation Territory are ready to meet with the government representatives.

This process could also be used for First Nations and businesses to reach agreements  in a way which builds communication and lasting relationships by ensuring that the voices of First Nation people are heard.  Corporate Canada, pay attention!

Read the full article here:

http://www.macleans.ca/opinion/how-a-new-kind-of-resolution-process-can-support-reconciliation/

Join us in London, Ontario, Canada for Fundamentals of Mediation March 21, 22, 23, 26, & 27, 2018

Click here for more information.

March 3, 2017

Thinking about Thinking: Conflict and Cognitive Bias

Next time you are experiencing a difficult conflict try thinking about how you and the other person are thinking.  When I read a recent post by Buster Benson I was struck by how cognitive bias contributes enormously to my day-to-day world of resolving conflict. Understanding more about cognitive bias certainly improves our conflict resolution skills.

Recently a learner in one of my courses expressed surprise when I said most people I deal with in mediation do not lie. However often they have very different perceptions about the same situation. Frequently those perceptions develop as a result of cognitive bias.

Let’s consider an example of employees in a workplace. One feels that having their reports corrected by a colleague is harassment. The other feels that this behaviour is being helpful. Or consider the joke that one member of the team does not find funny, and feels is intended to mock her.

According to the definition in Wikipedia, a cognitive bias is a pattern of deviation from rationality, in which inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion. For example, when we choose to rely on details which support our beliefs and ignore those details which do not, we are demonstrating cognitive biases such as confirmation bias, ostrich effect or post-purchase rationalization.

It takes a lot of energy to think, and then to think about how we think. Being efficient humans, for good reason we rely on the shortcuts of cognitive bias. In his post Buster Benson said:

Every cognitive bias is there for a reason — primarily to save our brains time or energy. If you look at them by the problem they’re trying to solve, it becomes a lot easier to understand why they exist, how they’re useful, and the trade-offs (and resulting mental errors) that they introduce.

Here are four problems that cognitive biases help us address and some examples of the ways they contribute to make conflict situations more difficult.

1.  Too much information.   There is so much information in the world that we need some way to filter out the majority of it. Conflict situations often include the example above of relying on details which support our beliefs and ignoring details which do not, leading to several common cognitive biases, three of which are mentioned above.

2.  Not enough meaning.   How do we make sense of all the vast information out there? In conflict situations it is common to use our cognitive biases to fill in characteristics from generalities and prior histories, (for example, stereotyping and bandwagon effect) and to imagine things and people we’re familiar with as better than things and people we aren’t familiar with (for example, halo effect, and in-group bias). Another common participant in conflict situations is our tendency to think we know what others are thinking. Examples of this are illusion of transparency, asymmetric insight, and spotlight effect.

3.  Need to act fast.    We have too much information, not enough time to figure it out and we need to act fast without enough time to be certain. Ever since our cave-dwelling days, standing still invites danger. A factor in many conflict situations is our need to be confident in our ability to make an impact and to choose to do what is important, (for example overconfidence effect, and fundamental attribution error). Another popular area of cognitive bias which contributes to conflict is the tendency to choose what we know and preserve the way things are. Better the devil you know than the devil you do not. Examples of this are decoy effect and status quo bias.

4.  Not enough memory.  There’s too much information for us to remember much of it. What we choose to remember helps us create the filters we need for # 1 above and to fill in missing information for #2 above. It’s a self-reinforcing circle. Our tendency to edit memories after the fact is a contributor to conflict, for example, source confusion, and false memory. Another frequent contributor to conflict is our tendency to reduce facts and events to a few key elements, for example, misinformation effect and primacy effect.

 

Back to our examples of employees from the beginning. Of course the cognitive biases in action depend on the specific circumstances. The employees in a dispute about whether correcting a colleague’s report is harassment might benefit from considering how the cognitive biases of asymmetric insight and the illusion of transparency are affecting their perceptions of the situation. The team with the joke that is not shared by all might be experiencing perceptions framed by the cognitive biases of bandwagon effect and in-group bias. That group plus the one who does not find the joke funny may also be experiencing the cognitive bias of the illusion of transparency.

We need to use more logic when we think about our thinking. Simple to say and definitely not simple to do. Understanding more about how we form our perceptions, the illogical shortcuts we use and the errors those cognitive biases cause us can go a long way to helping us unravel the tangled mess of a conflict.

 Read Buster Benson’s article here.

  Build your conflict resolution skills by registering for Fundamentals of Mediation.  The next course starts March 29, 2017.

October 2, 2016

Eliminate Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination- October 18 in London, Ontario

Munn Conflict Resolution Services supports healthy, peaceful workplaces

Please join us for an event in London, Ontario sponsored by Munn Conflict Resolution Services.

The topic is:  Workplace Harassment, Sexual Harassment & Violence

Elizabeth Hewitt, LLB of E. Hewitt Law will be the keynote speaker hosted by  London Business and Professional Women.

Date:   October 18, 2016. 

 Ms Hewitt will discuss the best practices and common pitfalls of workplace harassment, bullying and discrimination and how these issues cost both employer and employees.

Resister now. The deadline is October 11.

Click here for details and registration.

Eliminate Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination- October 18 in London, Ontario

Munn Conflict Resolution Services supports healthy, peaceful workplaces

Please join us for an event in London, Ontario sponsored by Munn Conflict Resolution Services.

The topic is:  Workplace Harassment, Sexual Harassment & Violence

Elizabeth Hewitt, LLB of E. Hewitt Law will be the keynote speaker hosted by  London Business and Professional Women.

Date:   October 18, 2016. 

 Ms Hewitt will discuss the best practices and common pitfalls of workplace harassment, bullying and discrimination and how these issues cost both employer and employees.

Resister now. The deadline is October 11.

Click here for details and registration.

February 19, 2016

Why do I Need to Know the Fundamentals of Mediation?

I need to help my team members resolve conflict between them.  I learned mediation so that I could be more effective. -  Supervisor 

An excellent course. Must be taken by managers, problem solvers and those that have responsible jobs!  - Business owner

As manager of a team that provides services to the whole organization I end up mediating conflict between other departments and my staff.   I learned the mediation skills to do this better. - Manager

An excellent opportunity to build on existing skills and interests. Encourages alternative negotiation and mediation processes which are very useful.  - Lawyer

With my mediation training, I am positioned for promotion. This was a worthwhile investment in my career.  - Administrator

Looking forward to using my new mediation skills to build a retirement business mediating in my field. - Recently retired professional

Whatever your reason is

Fundamentals of Mediation is an opportunity to build your practical skills to manage and resolve conflict.

Next course dates April 6, 7, 8, 11, and 12, 2016. Early registration discount until March 4, 2016.

Click here to register.

Don`t miss this opportunity.

February 26, 2015

Manage Marijuana Conflict without Pain

The  use of marijuana  may be coming to your workplace as a prescribed medication.  This issue challenges  employers and employees to balance the human rights of an employee prescribed a medication  with the health and safety issues linked to the use of that medication. What follows are some practical steps  to resolve that conflict.

This balance of  competing issues is a conversation that has occurred before.  Employees have been prescribed other medications which may affect their work performance or judgment.  The difference is that medications like Wellbutrin or Percocet do not have the stigma that is attached to marijuana.  

Except when prescribed, marijuana is illegal to possess or to sell in many jurisdictions, and in the past has been completely banned from most workplaces.   As a result employers and co-workers may be concerned about the use of marijuana at work even though other pain medications do not receive the same scrutiny.

As an employer or employee representative, opening up the conversation about medical marijuana is easier to do when there are no specific individuals with a current problem to solve.  Don’t wait until this is a human rights or health and safety complaint. 

Let’s get to specific practical steps to work through this issue.

  1. Gather information.  What other policies does the employer have which are relevant?  Workplace policies about other psychoactive drugs may be possible to extend to use of marijuana. What exactly are the health and safety risks associated with the use of marijuana  in the various specific  jobs in this workplace?  How do other similar employers manage similar risks?  How does this connect with the legal obligation, for example in Ontario,  of an employee to report hazards in the workplace?
  2. Listen to them.  If this is already a complaint, think about it objectively and try to separate the people involved from the path to the solution you are seeking.  In order to find a solution you will need to consider fully and thoroughly as many points of view as you can.  Separate past perceptions of marijuana use from the current reality of prescribed marijuana. 
  3. Solve the problem together.  If you find that the conversation is getting stuck here are some basic ideas to help move through difficulties.
  • Clarify what each affected person’s needs are – the employer, employee with marijuana prescription, co-workers, as well as customers, or members of the public who may be affected. 
  • Have those needs been addressed?
  • Propose different ideas which address everyone’s concerns. 
  • Propose a different process for negotiating, such as using an external mediator.

 How can you be sure you have solved the problem? 

This may not be a one-time solution  but an evolving process to build effective workplace policies as more information becomes available   about the uses and effects of marijuana.  Keep the door open to refine and reconsider  as understanding  develops in your workplace as well as  in general about the use of prescribed marijuana.

 For more information about health and safety policy issues on this topic  see http://www.hasco.ca/media/uploads/bulletins/Medical_Marijuana__Safety_Law.pdf 

March 10, 2014

What Do 2 Rights Make? - Mediation of Competing Human Rights

How do you resolve conflicts where both people claim a human right applies to them?  For example:

A professor’s service dog causes a severe allergic reaction for one of her students.

An accuser wishes to testify while wearing a niqab (full face covering) at the criminal trial of her accused.

A religious employer requires employees to sign a “morality pledge” not to engage in certain sexual activity.

The right to be free from discrimination on the 15 grounds listed in the Ontario Human Rights Code, such as gender, creed, sexual orientation and disability is limited.  One of the limits  is where my right substantially interferes with the rights of others.  Each of those listed rights is equally important.  In addition to the provincial human rights legislation, there are rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which may also apply.

 Some of the most complex and difficult human rights cases involve issues like those listed above.  Ultimately the goal of human rights legislation is to increase the experience of dignity and respect for each person in the society. 

In cases of competing human rights, both people involved assert a human right.  The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has developed a policy on completing human rights which includes a framework for recognizing, then reconciling, and finally making decisions about competing human rights claims. http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-competing-human-rights

As the OHRC’s Competing Human Rights policy states,  

Resolving conflicts early helps organizations to address matters before they fester and become entrenched.  This in turn helps ensure the health and functioning of an organization, and can avoid costly and time-consuming litigation.

 Mediation has shown itself to be effective for resolving conflict in the area of complex human rights.  I recently attended a 3-dy course for experienced mediators on this specific area of mediation practice,  presented by the OHRC. That organization is uniquely positioned to see the effectiveness of mediation in difficult and complex situations.

 According to the OHRC policy,

Mixed interest- and rights-based ADR is particularly effective to address competing human rights claims where no one claimant can assert that they are the only party affected.  Rather, it requires creative and cooperative efforts to reach agreement on solutions.  These efforts are more likely than litigation to uncover relatively harmonious and durable solutions.

From my own experience I know that when parties work together to resolve a situation which seems impossible at the beginning, they develop mutual respect and a commitment to their resolution. This inspires them to implement their solution and, if there are bumps in the road to implementation, to be able to work through those with renewed good will towards each other.

 

Here’s another link to read more about competing human rights law.  The Shadow of the Law: Surveying the Case Law Dealing with Competing Rights Claims http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/shadow-law-surveying-case-law-dealing-competing-rights-claims