Investigation fails to confirm if harassment program implemented
By: Susan Clairmont | Hamilton Spectator
A Ministry of Labour investigation has concluded McMaster University has a program to deal with workplace harassment and violence — but it failed to determine if the program is being implemented.
That failure raises questions about the value of legislated Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) programs that the ministry either doesn’t have the authority or will to enforce.
A union request sparked the ministry’s superficial investigation into concerns that Mac mishandled an alleged workplace assault by a cleaning supervisor who has been the subject of harassment, assault and sexual harassment complaints for years.
Ministry spokesperson William Lin says it is the ministry’s role to “make sure (the employer) has a program in place to address those issues” of workplace violence and harassment. Asked if the ministry’s role also includes ensuring the program is properly implemented, Lin would only say that each case is different.
This issue concerns potential violence in the workplace …’ Peter Foulds | Building Union of Canada
The complaint to the ministry was filed Nov. 14 by Peter Foulds, director of operations for the Building Union of Canada, which represents the cleaners at Mac. “This issue concerns potential violence in the workplace and workplace harassment, along with potential reprisals to workers with respect to health and safety issues and complaints,” Foulds wrote.
He goes on to write that the union believes the university’s handling of the initial assault complaint and those of other employees “all give rise to serious violations of the (OHS) Act.”
The union is “hereby requesting that this situation and, in particular, the university’s response to the complaints and its own initial report be investigated” by the ministry, the letter said.
Cleaning supervisor Uzodinma Godson Okwulehie is facing a criminal assault charge after a female cleaner was allegedly grabbed by the arm, spun around and shaken in the basement of the Kenneth Taylor building at 3 a.m. on March 27.
Both the human resources department and campus security failed to take action against Okwulehie, 50, or even to report the incident to police.
However, an internal security report identified that at least 10 women who worked for Okwulehie had lodged complaints against him beginning in 2000.
The damning report concluded “that Godson has engaged in a pattern of vexatious behaviour that is unwanted, intimidating, possibly fear-inducing and is sometimes of a sexual nature.”
It also noted his behaviour was “possibly escalating.”
Five months after that report was written, night cleaner Ljubic Savic, 55, resorted to laying a rare private assault charge against Okwulehie. A justice of the peace believed there was enough evidence against him to accept the charge, which is now being prosecuted by a Crown attorney.
“With the possible exception of advising Godson that he was to have no further contact with Savic, the university did not implement any of the strategies recommended in its own report,” Foulds wrote.
Previously a McMaster spokesperson admitted that “there are some troubling parts to this case,” including the fact the university president and vice-president were unaware of the internal report on Okwulehie. Also, that the complaints against the supervisor had been “looked at individually” without anyone considering “the big picture.”
Okwulehie will appear in court again Jan. 15. McMaster has confirmed he is still an employee of the university, although he has not been at work since October.
He has not returned The Spectator’s calls.
The ministry investigation did not look into Mac’s response to the alleged assault. Nor did it report back to Foulds, who requested the investigation.
The investigation concluded with a one-page memo posted on a bulletin board at the university stating the inspector “discussed workplace violence and harassment legislation with the workplace parties.”
It confirmed Mac has policies in place regarding workplace violence and harassment, and that an assessment has been “completed in regards to workplace violence” and that “there is training in place.”
The memo then says “Ministry of Labour involvement (is) not required at this time.”