Alberta government staff have new Respectful Workplace Policy, anti-harassment training

Following a review, an Edmonton law firm has written a new Respectful Workplace Policy for political staff in the government of Alberta.

The policy includes detailed information on how to make a complaint, how investigations will be conducted, consequences for violation and definitions of various types of workplace harassment.

It applies to all staff employed in the office of the premier and the ministerial offices of the government of Alberta.

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Jamie Pytel and Alex Matthews of Kingsgate Legal wrote the document after they conducted an extensive review of existing human resources policies.

Pytel is also the integrity commissioner for the City of Edmonton.

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In October 2021, a former senior Alberta government staffer alleged she was harassed and ultimately fired after raising concerns about what she saw as the sexual harassment of another employee by a senior government staffer.

Ariella Kimmel is suing Premier Jason Kenney’s office for what she alleges was wrongful dismissal.

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When details of the lawsuit were made public last fall, Kenney announced the review of HR policies with an eye toward recommendations, if necessary, on ways to ensure staff felt free to come forward to report concerns.

Any changes to procedures were to be made public.

“Political staff work in a dynamic and high-pressure environment,” Pytel said in a news release Tuesday.

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“This policy recognizes these unique workplace considerations while protecting staff from harassment, including sexual harassment and discrimination. This policy is a positive step forward for people working in politics.”

The Respectful Workplace Policy says “work” includes “work that is carried out at any time or location where a staff member is expected to be performing their job duties” and “workplace” as “any place where the business is carried out, and includes business travel, conferences and employer directed work-related social gatherings or events.”

It defines workplace harassment as “objectionable or unwelcome conduct by a staff member, that the staff member knows or ought reasonably to know would harm or cause offence, humiliation, degradation, or embarrassment, or which generally causes a hostile, intimidating, or abusive work environment or otherwise adversely affects the health and safety of an employee.”

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It includes bullying and is usually a “series of events or a pattern of behaviour. In some circumstances, a single incident may be serious or egregious enough to constitute harassment.”

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Workplace harassment does not include “conduct and reasonable feedback relating to the management and performance of staff or the work site.”

The policy states that if an investigation finds an employee has breached the policy, “appropriate action including corrective, remedial, or disciplinary action, up to and including termination will be taken.

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“A restorative approach is preferred when possible and appropriate. This involves the establishment or re-establishment of a respectful workplace relationship.”

In a news release, the government said the premier and all ministers have also signed a statement confirming their commitment to a harassment-free workplace.

Executive Council has also ensured members of the Alberta public service, agencies, boards, commissions, and the Legislative Assembly of Alberta completed anti-harassment workforce training, the news release stated.

The policy’s wording

The Respectful Workplace Policy is:

“The premier’s office of the government of Alberta is committed to a work environment where staff are treated with dignity and respect, and are safe from harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination, and violence.

“The demonstration of respect is the responsibility of every staff member within the work environment. Harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination, and violence will not be tolerated in our workplace.

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“The premier’s office is committed to eliminating and doing everything reasonably practicable to prevent this type of inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour.

“The premier’s office will appropriately investigate any allegations of harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination, and violence and take corrective action to address these forms of misconduct.”

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With files from The Canadian Press

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