Suggestions for the Trade Union

last updated September 20, 2005

One of the challenges for unions in sexual harassment complaints is the conflict that arises when both the alleged victim and alleged harasser belong to the same union.  Depending on the legislation a particular country is dealing with, there may be a legal duty of fair representation of each union member.  However, Karg and Colatosti in Stopping Sexual Harassment: A handbook for Union and Workplace Activities suggest on p.34 that “[i]f the harassment is clear-cut or severe, or if the harasser is a repeat offender who refuses to reform, the union may decide not to arbitrate his grievance.” 

The book provides guidance for investigating the harassment grievance especially for circumstances in which it involves two members of the union.

It is important to maintain confidentiality, so discussions regarding the allegations should be held privately and on a need-to-know basis.

The union should work closely with the victim to understand the kind of resolution she is seeking.  The union should remember that the victim is likely to be upset about the situation.  Some suggestions for speaking with her include:

  • Do not cross-examine her.

  • Encourage her that the incident can be discussed objectively, and speak in a matter-of-fact manner.

  • Avoid asking questions that suggest that she did something wrong, such as not addressing the situation sooner.

  • Ask open-ended questions instead of leading questions.

  • Encourage her to speak specifically about what happened in detail.

  • Find out where the behavior occurred and everyone who was involved, including witnesses.  Find out if the behavior has happened before and for how long.

  • Do not assume what the victim means.  Ask for clarification on confusing statements.

  • When she has finished, ask her if there is anything else the harasser has done.

  • Ask her how she would like the situation resolved.

Some suggestions for speaking with the alleged harasser include:

  • Be to the point and serious.

  • Start by explaining that the meeting is to discuss an allegation of sexual harassment.

  • Focus on the alleged harasser’s behavior, not his intentions.

  • Be impartial and stay on topic.

  • Ask the alleged harasser to respond separately to each allegation.

  • If he admits that he did the behavior, tell him to stop immediately regardless of whether his intentions were misunderstood or harmless.

  • If he denies the behavior, explain that you will be doing additional fact finding as you have two sides to the story.

From Colatosti and Karg, 38-39.