Students who work for the university are not immune to workplace harassment. To combat the problem, Governing Council’s Policy with Respect to Workplace Harassment provides guidelines on how students can file complaints in the event that they experience harassment at work.
The policy provides student and faculty employees of the university with three options for filing complaints: victims can either contact their human resources office, their union, or their supervisor. If the grievance is against the supervisor, the complainant can go to a senior-level department member. The policy also instructs victims to contact the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre.
Elizabeth Church, a U of T spokesperson, said that it is “hard to generalize [the complaint process] because it depends on the nature of the case, so the next steps and consequences would be decided based on the general nature of the case.”
Church explained that apart from contacting one’s supervisor, the university has “13 divisional human resource offices, that all employees… including student employees, have access to. They can contact those offices if they have concerns, or to get information, or to access support.”
Church added, “In most cases, student employees are also covered by one or more collective agreements, [which] have provisions with respect to workplace harassment and complaints.” Students also have the ability to contact the Equity Office to learn more about the ways that they can deal with issues of harassment relating to discrimination.
In January 2017, U of T also implemented the Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, which applies to all members of the U of T community.
Individuals can report incidents of sexual harassment to their campus’ Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre.
The policy gives the university the jurisdiction to commence an official investigation into the incident. A complainant may request no investigation, but the university may choose to proceed with one anyway, in accordance with its responsibility to the safety of the community.
Investigations will allow both the complainant and respondent to submit statements detailing the alleged assault, although the complainant can choose not to participate. Complainants will also have the option of being referred to support services and receiving academic accommodations.
However, reporting incidents relies on the victim, as the policy explains that simply disclosing information about a sexual assault to a member of staff does not constitute reporting.
All incidents must be brought to the support centre if the complainant wishes to move forward.
This policy allowed U of T to meet the requirements of Bill 132, which was put forth by the government of Ontario in 2016 and addresses sexual assault and harassment in the workplace and on university campuses.
Bill 132 states that universities must have sexual assault policies that explain how they will respond to complaints.
In her 2015 action plan, former premier Kathleen Wynne addressed the power dynamics and deep-rooted misogyny embedded within sexual violence. She called on the importance of improving the safety of postsecondary campuses, saying that “assault and harassment are too prevalent and often go unreported and unchecked.”
The imbalance of power is especially important in the context of students employed in university positions, where they often work alongside individuals of higher standing. Statistics Canada reported that sexual assault was the least reported violent crime in the country in 2014, in part, because victims were worried about the perception of sexual assault as unimportant.
Acknowledging the imbalances of power between students and their employer may help dispel students’ fear that reporting could cost them their position or reputation.