The union for University of the Fraser Valley staff and faculty may have been split by allegations of harassment, but UFV shouldn’t have launched its own investigation, the Labour Relations Board has ruled.
In November, two executives serving on the university’s Faculty and Staff Association (FSA) filed written complaints with UFV alleging harassment by three other FSA officials. All five individuals involved had either been fully or partially released from their UFV jobs in order to work on behalf of the union.
The complaints were “filed under the University’s Discrimination, Bullying and Harassment Policy,” which prohibits bullying by employees or anyone on campus, according to a ruling this month by the Labour Relations Board (LRB).
Soon after the complaints were filed, the FSA demanded the university cease its investigation, arguing the complaints were based on confidential internal communications that the university didn’t have the right to see. It also demanded the university turn over any confidential union information it had received.
The FSA said the university’s actions amounted to “intimidating and threatening conduct.”
The case is believed to be the first in the province involving an employer investigating bullying by, and towards, union officers.
In a decision handed down earlier this month, LRB vice-chair Koml Kandola ruled that while she wasn’t convinced the university acted out of malice, it still “over-reached” by launching an investigation based on confidential union material.
“It may well have believed it was acting appropriately in pursuing a formal investigation in the manner it did,” she said in her decision.
While the university had argued that it was required by WorkSafeBC to investigate, Kandola said the university was unable to prove that was the case in its submissions. She also said there was no indication the dispute had spilled over from the union into the university workplace.
And she said UFV shouldn’t have obstructed union officials from accessing its confidential material that had been left by the two complainants in their university offices after they took sick leave.
As for the harassment allegations at the core of the decision, the two complainants have both filed WorkSafeBC complaints.
Kandola encouraged the union and university to use the LRB’s Special Investigating Officer to figure out how to proceed.
In a statement to its members, FSA president Sean Parkinson highlighted the ruling’s determination that the university interfered with the union’s activity’s. Parkinson wrote that the university should not have forced the union to go to the FSA.
“These disputes between the FSA and the University are very time consuming and expensive,” he wrote. “The FSA had no choice but to respond to what was obviously very clear interference on behalf of the University.”
In a statement to The News, UFV spokesperson Dave Pinton emphasized that the university did not intend to breach the code.
“UFV received unsolicited complaints under the university’s discrimination, bullying, and harassment prevention policy involving matters within the FSA. At the time of these complaints, the FSA did not provide evidence that a process to investigate existed within the union. UFV takes allegations of this nature very seriously and so believed there was an obligation to investigate.”
Pinton said the university will work with the FSA to find a way to address complaints within the union.