Nurse complaints don’t meet threshold for harassment

‘The calls I get from Nunavut, it just breaks my heart,’ says expert who helps victims of workplace bullying

This is a list of all formal harassment complaints Nunavut nurses made to the Government of Nunavut’s Human Resources Department between July 2021 and June 2023. (Image courtesy of Nunavut Department of Human Resources)

By Randi Beers

This is Part 2 of a three-part series about the work environment in Nunavut’s health centres. Read Part 1: ‘Nunavut is scary’: Nurses speak out about toxic work environment, here.

Nunavut nurses made 16 harassment complaints over the past two years, and none of those complaints have met investigators’ threshold of harassment.

Seven were closed after having been determined “No prima facie [case] met,” which means the evidence provided in the complaint was not obvious upon first review.

The information appears on a spreadsheet containing statistical information about harassment complaints from GN nurses, obtained by Nunatsiaq News in August through the territory’s access to information law.

The one-page document lists whether the complaints were made against a colleague or supervisor, whether they are open or closed, and the outcome, if any.

Nine of the complaints are against colleagues. Seven are against supervisors.

Nine investigations are listed as ongoing. One complaint appears to be in limbo, according to the spreadsheet, because a “critical” person to the investigation is “unavailable.”

Bullying can be difficult to prove: expert

These statistics come as no surprise to Linda Crockett, founder of the Canadian Institute of Workplace Bullying Resources based in Edmonton.

“I can guarantee you [these investigators] have not been trained,” she said.

Linda Crockett is the founder of the Canadian Institute of Workplace Bullying Resources. She says she’s familiar with toxic workplace allegations against the GN. (Photo courtesy of Linda Crockett)

“It should be mandatory in my opinion that all HR [professionals] are trained to investigate claims of psychological harassment. It’s not your normal type of investigation.”

Nunatsiaq News asked the Department of Human Resources what training investigators get.

Irma Arkus, a spokesperson with the department, said the GN typically asks a third party to investigate harassment complaints. She offered no further detail.

Crockett has 13 years experience working with victims of workplace harassment. She’s worked with people from a variety of trades, and says she is familiar with toxic workplace allegations against the Nunavut government.

“The calls I get from Nunavut, it just breaks my heart,” she said.

Crockett said workplace harassment happens when a certain person or group of people are consistently targeted with rude, mean, aggressive, inappropriate words or tone. It doesn’t need to be a conscious effort to inflict harm.

Her description is similar to the GN’s workplace harassment policy which reads, in part, that harassment includes unwanted conduct “that can be reasonably considered to have the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity” and can create an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” in the workplace.

“Sometimes it’s subtle, insidious, behind closed doors and difficult to prove,” Crockett said. “Sometimes it’s right to your face … yelling at you for saying something, sabotaged reputations, relationships.”

She said psychological harassment complaints require specialized training to identify.
The ideal, Crockett said, is to set up a neutral, transparent, trauma-informed system of handling harassment complaints.

Yukon developed a Respectful Workplace Office policy in 2013, which provides a mechanism to investigate workplace harassment complaints using a committee of management, human resources, union representatives and an Indigenous contingent.

In Nunavut, former MLA Pat Angnakak made a motion in the legislative assembly in 2016 asking the territorial government to create a public service commission modelled after what exists in Yukon.

Nunavut’s 12 regular MLAs unanimously approved Angnakak’s motion but eight cabinet ministers voted against it. Without cabinet support, the idea died.

“It’s really hard to institute change,” Angnakak said in a recent interview with Nunatsiaq News, reflecting on her motion.

“And when change does happen it happens very slowly. It’s just the nature of how things are.”

During her time as MLA, Pat Angnakak tried to improve the workplace environment within the GN, partly through the restoration of the Department of Human Resources in 2019. The department had been disbanded in 2013. She also tried to institute a public service commission to investigate harassment allegations, but that idea did not take hold within the GN. (File photo)

Protecting privacy 

Privacy concerns make it nearly impossible to get any information from the Department of Human Resources pertaining to harassment complaints.

The department refused an initial request for statistics regarding complaints and outcomes earlier this summer, citing employee confidentiality.

“Protecting employee confidentiality is one of the fundamentals of maintaining a respectful and harassment-free work environment,” department spokesperson Murielle Jassinthe said on June 29.

Nunatsiaq News went on to request copies of all formal harassment complaints filed by nurses over the past two years through the territory’s access to information law. The department refused, at first, to process the request.

Safiatou Traore, an access to information officer for the department, cited a variety of reasons for the refusal, including that the volume of records would be too high for staff to handle and the work would be disruptive to the department.

“While we have considered the principles of transparency and accountability, we do not have any basis to conclude that the above disruptions would be worth the public interest,” a July 4 email from Traore said.

Nunatsiaq News eventually received the one-page document cited in this story as the result of mediation led by the territory’s information commissioner, Graham Steele.

Nunatsiaq News requested an interview with Human Resources Minister Margaret Nakashuk about her department’s handling of harassment complaints. Department spokesperson Irma Arkus responded that an interview with Nakashuk is “not necessary” because the GN contracts a third party to handle harassment complaints.

In the meantime, Crockett, citing her years of advocacy against workplace bullying, warned that people are paying attention to the issue.

“What we see motivating change is exposure,” she said.

“More employers being exposed on social media about cases of sexual harassment, psychological harassment, bullying … the research is out. If they don’t educate themselves, they are going to find themselves plastered on social media.”

Part 3 of this series looks at how a severely dysfunctional situation in Kinngait led to the death of a baby 10 years ago, and what has happened with several recommendations stemming from that incident.

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(18) Comments:

  1. Posted by Nope on

    My harassment complaint was investigated by HR itself, so it seems pretty unlikely that all of these are done by third parties. Months outside the policy deadlines, I received a copy-paste letter from DM Health advising that my complaint was dismissed. My complaint was pretty basic and easily met the threshold. I did not receive a single call or inquiry from HR with any follow up. I had received an admission of wrongdoing and apology by the perpetrator in writing independently, so I was vindicated anyhow.
    Reflecting back I wouldn’t use GN policies. I would simply file a professionalism complaint with the college, or GN registrar, if the person is a license health professional. For nurses the college is at least self-regulated, for doctors they are regulated by the GN directly.
    Everyone knows that HR just denies all these claims because they cannot spare the resources to investigate. Additionally, the Health DM (who makes the decision, not HR) has zero incentive to lose directors, managers, other nurses and physicians who are harassing others because it means less healthcare workers. This is how they justify it and how you make a toxic work environment.

  2. Posted by Hunter on

    If the MLA’s and GN Sr. Staff did not get the memo, or make a briefing note for the Minister and Premier’s Office

    This is a work place culture that creates a toxic work environment. This has been the norm for the past 20 years and it is not getting any better. GN offices and services are forced to close their doors to the public due to a lack of staff to provide services. Health Centers, Family Services, Income Support. They should be asking themselves why? Sr. Management at the GN is looking for Yes Men, staff the will follow the GN’s message.

    The GN needs to update their policies and use a result cycle approach.

    1. Identify Issue,
    2. Plan to address issue,
    3. Create Policy to address issue,
    4, Implement Policy to address issues,
    5 Monitor policy to ensure it is bein implemented as intended,
    6. Evaluate, determine if the original issue is being address as planned and identify spin off issues
    7. Repeat

    How old are the policies GN Sr. Management are following? If the MLA’s and Premiers Office, Ministers want to make change they have to do it though new legislation. new regulations and new policies. If these do not get changed how St. Management conduct public business and make decisions will never change.

    One of the biggest problems is Government of Nunavut Employees do not acknowledge they are servants……SERVANTS OF THE PUBLIC! Government employees sole purpose and existence is to serve the public in accordance with legislation, regulation and policies approved by MLA’s Minister’s and the Premiers Office.

    • Posted by iThink™ on

      Good post, Hunter. I want to add a couple thoughts to it.

      You say “Sr. Management at the GN is looking for Yes Men, staff the will follow the GN’s message.”

      I would say these behaviors spring up from factions and cliques that are ultimately vying for power as a means to control, and control follows from a need for security.

      The remedy, in my opinion, is education and team-building aimed at a shift workplace culture. Granted, that is hard to do as much of what we are talking about comes very naturally to humans.

  3. Posted by surprised on

    I’m no longer surprised at these types of complains. We get one or two every year, it seems. I’ve worked here for about 10 years and people who try to make the workplace better or seemingly even “functional” gets axed in one way or the other. If you want to work for the GN you better be ready to put up with a sh**show, sad reality.

  4. Posted by Inuk on

    The shortage staff and those who likes to work in the north and with busy employment signing papers for employment opportunities just ties it up. Being avoided in our land with new generation today is just like being screwed into our homes if being denied. Other than that, we really need to work together to unscrew that.

  5. Posted by John K on

    “In Nunavut, former MLA Pat Angnakak made a motion in the legislative assembly in 2016 asking the territorial government to create a public service commission modelled after what exists in Yukon.

    Nunavut’s 12 regular MLAs unanimously approved Angnakak’s motion but eight cabinet ministers voted against it. Without cabinet support, the idea died.”

    No doubt. I suspect those cabinet ministers have a vested interest in maintaining this lack of recourse. They put their friends in all these positions so now they can’t just STOP being corrupt.

    “More employers being exposed on social media about cases of sexual harassment, psychological harassment, bullying … the research is out. If they don’t educate themselves, they are going to find themselves plastered on social media.”

    This is the most important part of this article. Don’t go to HR, don’t go to the Union. Go to the media. Post your evidence on Facebook and Instagram and let the GN deal with the blowback.

  6. Posted by Huh? on

    16 over two years for the largest department in the Government and who likely employs hundreds of casual and agency frontline staff yearly. Would be nice if the journalist compared apples to apples. Is this unusually high? It it on par with other jurisdictions? Any level of harassment is wrong, but would be helpful to know if these numbers are alarming or not.

  7. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    can we put in a complaint about the number of prescriptions for tylenol that we receive from the Nurses?

    I know of a person who complained about severe abdominal pain and the nurse kept telling them to have tylenol every 4 hours. they were finally admitted to be seen and while at the Health Centre the pain subsided. their appendix burst and they finally sent for a medevac to pick them up to fly to the Hospital to be cleaned out as the bile was inside their abdomen.

  8. Posted by Nunavut Expat on

    The NEU has a local that is for nurses only. It was a hard-fought battle to get it started, and it excluded LPNs. NEU also has difficulty with issues that are nursing related because they are not well versed with union members who also report to a regulatory body. Staff have been known to be threatened with being reported to the Licensing board, and that is enough to have the staff have their lips zipped.

    In the previous article, there was also mention of Minister Main saying that he was unaware of any formal blacklisting processes. Of course there’s no official process – that’s the essence of being blacklisted.

  9. Posted by Will on

    So this is essentially how it works, and why they never find harassment. The GN HR Committee reviews the complaint and if they find enough “prima facia” basis to proceed (which is actually a fairly high standard for psychological mistreatment) they refer out to independent firms to investigate. HOWEVER, the GN pays for this and also determines the scope of the investigation (what allegations will and won’t be investigated) the timeframe, scope for who can be interviewed, etc. The independent firm then returns to report to the DM’s, who can actually refuse to accept the report or send it back for revisions (a practice that is dying everywhere else because it is blatantly unfair). Therefore, the scope of investigations can be refined so well by the government as to make a finding of harassment or retaliation impossible for the independent firm to substantiate given the parameter’s set by GN. This is how they exonerate themselves of any wrongdoing. This isn’t a new practice, it was used extensively in the Eastern Bloc and in Western Governments too. The Government will never find wrongdoing in itself, they need to be forced.

  10. Posted by Philip Uvilluk on

    Nunavut self government was created, the fathers of Nunavut who worked so hard had a vision, that is to have local population treated with respect. Too many times management are buddy buddy, they have their own circles, like Old Boys club. Where are the deputy ministers who oversee running of Nunavut Government. Legislative Assembly unaware of what has been going on the last many years? Health Dept. as well as Family Services supervisors are not qualified or are bullies.

  11. Posted by Panni on

    Why is Iqaluit Mental Health, which operates on a drop-in basis, unstaffed and shuttered in the dark with the blinds down on all windows? Who wants to drop in on such an unwelcoming building? I need to see what I’m walking into. I want to see a counsellor in person not on a computer .

  12. Posted by LB on

    “Yukon developed a Respectful Workplace Office policy in 2013”
    Which is a joke.
    Committees and policies cannot fix this.
    There’s a lack of qualified staff and nurses so abuse and bullying is fostered by not dealing with it. management does nothing because they don’t want to lose a body. And the good ones leave ….

  13. Posted by Targeted 2 on

    As I release many negative feedbacks about the time I worked for GN. The complaints I made starting from November 2021 until now, I am only human. The experiences and hardships I faced are unreal. The experiences with the rcmp, the mental health nurse and dealing with some of the people in different departments even ministers and with people who are in higher power, are something that need improvement. The improvements that will support every department to work well together. Also, the people who are and become part of commitees should not involve their personal issues especially not get involve their personal issues to get back at someone. They also included my family members into this mess, That same rcmp officer would stalk my child and arrest my child many times. They tried to destroy my family and they were all affected by all of this. I lived them and never want any GN employee go through what I went through. What people need to know is, they do not need to use their power to destroy others. There are many people like me who were and are still powerless. We need to make sure, administrators or people who are in power, understand that there are people who are willing to work together for the common good. Today, I applied for positions for the same department, they refused to interview me because of these incidences.

  14. Posted by Nurse2010 on

    Your politicians don’t care!! Nothing will change until the people start printing their fingers upward, ministers, DMs, ADMs. When a reporter asked George Hicks about the mass exodus of nurses from QGH ER, he pawned the question off to HR. Senior mgmt (still in power) didn’t intervene, the ER management remained after everyone quit because of her, HR did zero exit interviews!

  15. Posted by Inuk on

    It is toxic and unsafe place to work. Ive stayed at government organized building, they harased to you, abused you, hurt your feelings and hurts your body. Not to be trusted. No powers over our applications for further analysis, no compensation, no talks, just a continuing abuse and harssment.

  16. Posted by Scrubs on

    Only 16?

    I think some companies put that many forward in a month. Agency nurses often complain to their employers, who pass on their complaints to the GN…and then those nurses are blacklisted as a result.

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