Respect in the Workplace

Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts

Respect in the Workplace

(Report 1—2019 Fall Report of the Auditor General of Canada)

28 January 2021

Martin Dompierre
Assistant Auditor General

Madam Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our report on respect in the workplace, which was tabled in Parliament in February 2020. Joining me today is Susan Gomez, who led the audit team.

The Canada Border Services Agency and Correctional Service Canada, like all federal employers, are required to provide their employees with respectful workplaces that are free of harassment, discrimination, and violence by co‑workers and supervisors.

This is important because the well-being of employees suffers when the workplace is unhealthy. In addition, employees are less likely to report concerns if they perceive that their employer does not take them seriously. Issues that are not reported cannot be resolved and may affect employees’ health. The additional pressures of the current pandemic on employees make it especially important that employers provide healthy workplaces.

In this audit, we found that the Canada Border Services Agency and Correctional Service Canada did not do enough to promote and maintain respectful workplaces.

Our audit report included the results of a survey we conducted with the employees of these 2 federal organizations. The results showed that the employees who responded to the survey had concerns about respect in their workplaces. More than one third of survey respondents stated that they feared reprisal if they made complaints of harassment, discrimination, or workplace violence. They also had serious or significant concerns about organizational culture and about a lack of civility and respect in their workplaces.

Although both organizations knew that there were problems of harassment, discrimination, and violence in the workplace, neither had developed a comprehensive strategy to address them, including a way to measure and report on their progress toward reducing harassment, discrimination, and workplace violence.

Federal employers are encouraged to offer informal mechanisms such as meetings between individual employees and mediation for resolving complaints to help restore working relationships more quickly. We found that in the harassment and workplace violence complaints we reviewed, both organizations did not always tell employees that they could use informal processes.

In addition, we found that the organizations did not always do an initial assessment before deciding whether to accept or dismiss a complaint. The lack of initial assessments can lead to inconsistencies in the decision-making process and in the treatment of complaints.

Finally, we found that in the majority of harassment complaint cases that had been investigated and resolved, the organizations had ordered restorative actions aimed only at the individuals involved. In other words, the restorative actions were not aimed at establishing or re‑establishing a harmonious working relationship within the affected team, group, or unit. This is important because the behaviours leading to these complaints can have a long lasting and broad impact on relationships in the workplace.

The Canada Border Services Agency and Correctional Service Canada agreed with all our recommendations and have prepared action plans to address them.

Madam Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have. Thank you.