Harassment III

Standard

Harassment in the public service is a particularly difficult thing to manage and stop. I’ve seen lots of cases over the years and continue to see them now.

Some areas of harassment, tough to control on-line or in private sector environments — and here I’m talking about blatant racism and sexual harassment — are somewhat easier in the public sphere. When the law gets involved there is seldom any uncertainty how to act. I know of one recent case of sexual harassment that ended in jail time for someone who thought he was perfectly shielded by his position.

What is really hard for the public sector to deal with are things like double-reverse discrimination and bullying. What you ask is double-reverse discrimination? It is when a white male manager deliberately hires an affirmative action qualified candidate when they know a) their qualifications are not really sufficient for the job and b) there is a better qualified affirmative candidate available. Why would they do that? Because they want to prove affirmative action is a bad thing and, more personally, they don’t want to have a person below them who might someday take their job. I saw this a lot when I was first in the NWT and people were trying to make the public service more diverse. The way was blocked by a bunch of white male deadwood who were under qualified to be managers but ‘somehow’ got the jobs anyway (the ‘somehow’ was the male social club and bureaucratic patronage). Thankfully that problem has been largely solved and effective affirmative action programs have slowly started to achieve the goal of a workforce that represents the population it serves.

The matter of bullying is much more difficult. It is practiced at many levels of the service by both men and women. It is largely the tool of people who are in their own lives over controlling and resentful of anyone questioning their authority or even their opinion. While headlocks and slaps are unheard of, isolation, gossip, well-designed failure loops, inconsistent and poorly documented instructions are all effective tools of the bully.

There are grievance processes in place but the union is often forced to represent both the bully and their victims (and there are almost always serial victims) so is very rigorous about process. If the victim wavers, hesitates or shows fear (and why wouldn’t they?) the union backs off. Victims sometimes escape through lateral transfers to less toxic divisions.

Managers can intervene and sometimes do but even they may be subject of the bully’s wrath. In one case a black woman, who had driven away all her competent staff, accused her manager of harassment when he tried to correct her behavior. She claimed that it was racial discrimination on the part of both her manager and her victims. Eventually she will have the ‘misfortune’ of bullying someone who is also a person of colour. Or maybe she’ll get a manager immune to those accusations. Then the public service will do what they always do — shuffle her into ‘special projects’ where she can do no harm. But at least she’ll still have a job. She might even be happier.

But that’s ten minutes.

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