Recently, we've been analyzing the reports and findings of bullying and harassment cases made over the past four years. These are cases where APSA members are typically the complainants—are filing a complaint alleging bullying and harassment against someone else at the University.

Our analysis has had some disquieting, preliminary results. 

In SFU's bullying and harassment canvas course, the University gives examples of what constitutes bullying and harassment. These include:

  • Verbal Aggression (yelling, swearing, condescending)
  • Degrading or Humiliating remarks
  • Social exclusion or ostracism
  • Criticizing in front of a group
  • Excessive monitoring or unnecessary micromanagement
  • Undermining another’s work by giving impossible to meet deadlines or workloads
  • Making threats or using intimidating tactics
  • Unwarranted removal of core responsibilities
  • Making humiliating or degrading remarks about a person online
  • Any malicious behaviour a reasonable person would find unprofessional, disturbing, and harmful to their psychological health

For our analysis, we looked at all the allegations made by complainants over the past four years and categorized them by these examples. We then looked at whether the investigator involved determined if the allegations made were found to be factual (i.e. actually occurred).

Most investigations were conducted by a third-party lawyer contracted by SFU who was tasked to only report findings of fact. Following these findings of fact, an SFU decision-maker would apply the policy and decide whether bullying and harassment occurred based on the confirmed facts for any particular case. So, in terms of process, first of all, the contracted investigator determines what happened (did person X really yell at person Y), and then an SFU decision-maker determines if this fact actually was bullying and harassment per SFU policy.

Of note, two third-party non-lawyers who conducted cases found that bullying and harassment did occur between colleagues involved in the investigation. In this instance, SFU gave these investigators not only the responsibility of making findings of fact, but also applying SFU bullying and harassment policy to determine whether bullying and harassment actually occurred.

Where our preliminary results disquieted us was when a lawyer’s report said that the facts of a complaint did occur, but then the SFU decision-maker who ultimately decided if bullying and harassment had happened dismissed a substantiated fact as not an instance of bullying and harassment. Another way of putting this is that a third-party lawyer contracted by SFU might've found that, say, person X yelled at person Y, but the SFU decision-maker involved determined that this really wasn't bullying and harassment. In short, there appears to be an emerging pattern of inconsistent application of SFU's bullying and harassment criteria by SFU decision-makers. So far, this seems to be especially the case where the respondent is quite senior at the University in terms of rank.

There are also other inconsistencies in how similar instances of bullying and harassment allegations were interpreted. What types of behaviour are considered bullying and harassment? Was shouting bullying and harassment or not? What constituted harassment? 

As you may have read in previous editions of this newsletter, we're not alone in being concerned with the application and interpretation of SFU’s bullying and harassment policy. Along with the other employee groups at SFU, we sent a joint letter to SFU last month, regarding our concerns.

In the coming weeks and months, we'll continue pursuing a bullying and harassment policy and procedures that are objective, fair and unbiased for all our members. We'll continue to let you know what we learn and achieve.