Human Rights Advisory Services

Human Rights Advisory Services
Human Rights Advisory Services

Excuse: Promise of Confidentiality

Bottom Line

Employers cannot promise confidentiality for staff who complain of workplace harassment


Workplace Harassment

In Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union v Capital District Health Authority (harassment policy grievance) , 25 employees were subjected to the inappropriate and unwanted remarks of a supervisor.  17 of them,  feeling bullied and sexually harassed, went to confide in a manager.

Failure to Respond

The manager failed to respond to the complaints,  in part because many of the employees requested that she keep their statements confidential because they feared retaliation.  She made a promise to them and did not feel she could respond to the harassment without breaking that promise, thereby compromising the working relationship. When 4 of the 17 employees filed a grievance, the employer retained an external investigator who found that the supervisor had harassed and bullied his staff and that management had failed to respond properly.

The Arbitrator's Ruling

The Arbitrator made it clear that a manager cannot promise confidentiality; the employer must respond effectively to complaints as soon as it is aware of the unwanted behavior. This may preclude maintaining confidentiality.