Each month, our Advocacy Committee answers your questions about the AD 10 policies (aka, your terms and conditions of employment.)

Andrew Boden

Hello, I'm Andrew Boden, APSA's Executive Director and an advocate on our Advocacy Committee. I'm answering your questions related to our AD 10 policies. Questions? Submit them anonymously here. These questions will be answered in a future monthly advocacy corner issue. For an immediate answer, please contact us.

My leader is making my workplace toxic. I feel intimidated and often hopeless. I’m given impossible deadlines and then criticized when I’ve failed to meet them; sometimes I'm even yelled at. But, I’m too frightened to come forward with a complaint. I’ve seen employees in other departments resign or their position gets eliminated after filing a complaint. I’m also afraid of what this would do to my career at SFU and in my field. I’m not sure what to do here. What advice would you give me?

Please understand that many of our members are too terrified to come forward with a formal complaint. There’s a good reason for this. From page 40 of CBC Workplace Investigation Regarding Jian Ghomeshi, April 2015:

“[W]e are concerned that in an environment such as the CBC, relying exclusively on formal employee complaints to determine whether there is workplace conduct occurring that is contrary to the Behavioural Standard severely restricts the information it receives from employees about behaviour and conduct that may exist that is contrary to the Behavioural Standard.”


“Throughout this investigation, we heard repeatedly from all manner of employees that they would never pursue a formal complaint for fear of reprisal from their co-workers or their managers. This was particularly the case when there was a power or status difference between the employee and the person whose behaviour was a concern.”

As there is a power difference between you and your leader, I understand your fear of reprisal even though the University has an obligation to protect you from retaliation. It sounds from your question, that there is a lot at stake for you and this makes a decision to come forward very difficult.

There are a few things that you can do. First, please contact APSA. We're separate from the University and will keep anything you say in the strictest confidence. We'll also be able to advise you on appropriate next steps. Second, please document any incident or incidents. This should include when the incident occurred, what happened and who was present.

Sometimes it can be very difficult to determine what is bullying and harassment and what is a more difficult management style. To give you an idea of what bullying and harassment look like, here's a list of behaviours from a recent SFU canvas course on the subject:

  • Excessive yelling, repeated emotional outbursts, berating others.
  • Talking down to others or using degrading remarks.
  • Criticizing or pointing out mistakes to others in front of a group.
  • Social exclusion or ostracism, ignoring others, silent treatment.
  • Excessive monitoring of work or unnecessary micromanagement.
  • Undermining another’s work by giving impossible to meet deadlines or workloads.
  • Withholding pertinent work-related information; undermining another’s work by not giving them enough information to do what is required of them.
  • Manipulating a person’s job content; unwarranted removal of core responsibilities.
  • Making threats; using intimidating tactics.
  • Making humiliating or degrading remarks about a person online (i.e., cyberbullying).
  • Any malicious behaviour a reasonable person would find unprofessional, disturbing, and harmful to their psychological health.

Finally, I always recommend to people suffering bullying and harassment to seek as much support as possible, whether that's family, friends, your spiritual leadership or a counsellor. You can also reach out to the Employee and Family Assistance Program for additional support.

You're not alone. We're here for you.