Bullying in the federal government out of control

Today I thought I would highlight a series of stories have come out of Ottawa in the past week. They pertain to bullying and mobbing in the government workplace.

The story that triggered this was that of Zabia Chamberlain, who was a low-level executive being harassed and bullied by her boss. When she tried to do something about it, the senior bureaucracy closed ranks and pushed her out of her job.

They did this using the particularly nasty technique called mobbing. Mobbing involves ganging up on another person in the workplace in order to force that person out. Tactics can include shunning, malicious comments, exclusion from important events, and many other actions. Participants do so out of malice, to avoid being targeted themselves, and out of ignorance. Part of the process involves imagining the target as less than a real person – as somehow deserving of the treatment.

Being the social creatures that we are, it’s a particularly effective and inhumane tactic that is favoured by bullies. Whistleblowers are routinely subjected to it.

Unfortunately, many of the things done aren’t recognized as harassment. As a result, victims are left defenceless.

You may wonder why the average Canadian should care. Well, the simple answer is that it costs money – a lot of money. Studies have consistently shown that productivity falls for everyone (including those not attacked) when there is mobbing in the workplace. This means bigger government and more money spent on contractors as more people are hired to get work done. And that means higher taxes and less effective government for Canadians.

I believe that it is so pervasive in the federal governments is that so many times the bullies are in control of the departments and redress mechanisms. Even unions are afraid to tackle this, given the power of some of the perpetrators.

If the Harper Government (or any government for that matter) wants to increase efficiency and avoid potential scandals, one of the first things they should do is look at the health of the workplace.

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Public servant slams response to harassment claim
CBC News, May 9, 2011
Summary: A Gatineau, Que., woman says she was wrongfully dismissed after complaining about continual sexual harassment at her federal government job. Zabia Chamberlain worked as a director inside Human Resources and Skills Development Canada until, she says, chronic abuse from her director general forced her to leave her job. She says the department refused to transfer her to an equivalent job, away from the aggressor.

Public servants sound alarm over workplace ‘mobbing’
CBC News, May 10, 2011
Summary: Some public servants say bullies in the schoolyard have nothing on some executives inside the bureaucracy. Victims of harassment tell CBC News that bullying, intimidation and harassment is a problem inside some public service departments, especially at the higher levels.

Knowing when to talk
CBC News, May 10, 2011
Summary: When Zabia Chamberlain first gave me a call last fall, I was skeptical. Her story sounded too unbelievable. That first conversation lasted about two hours. Over the next six months Zabia and I would have several more lengthy conversations. I’d pour over letters, emails, reports retrieved through access to information. I’d study official government policy. I’d talk to her friends, her daughter, her brother. I’d be privy to very personal reports from her doctors and jaw dropping, sworn affidavits from colleagues.

5 thoughts on “Bullying in the federal government out of control”

  1. I don’t quite understand how HRSDC:
    1. Called the Perp a “third party” when he, like Chamberlain is a full time employee of HRSDC.
    2. Threw Chamberlain under the bus, by trying to force her to sign that form, as well as send thugs to harass her into compliance, withhold her paychecks, etc. etc.
    3. Refuse to uphold their own laws to protect an employee.
    The whole thing reeks of vile corruption and hidden agendas that appear to be systemic and Chamberlain just got in their way because she insists on playing by the rules.

    Someone should do something about that.

  2. You’re right. It stinks, and nothing will be done about it – because the people with the power to do so are the ones most likely to be perpetrators.

  3. yth4justice

    This stuff is horrific. I’m all for the powerful words of C4Integrity
    What I’m reading on the CBC site about the abuse of federal public servants disturbs and frightens me. I have to make my way in the working world and for me and thousands others like me that means looking for a possible future in the federal public service. Traumatizing a visible minority woman with a dedicated 22-year career with aggressive and sexual harasment, then hounding her and forcing her out while protecting the aggressor but asking her to sign a third-party form to lie about the liability of the fed bureaucracy – this is like state terror. Mr. Johnston was “circled” and “mobbed” out a 130-year family history in customs, and they did it when he just came out of heart surgery. I just read one posting by TonyNoakes. That’s an atrocity. That man is devastated.
    I think some of these senior bureaucrats are paid two, three hundred K a year, and more with bonuses. Doctors and teachers are suffering, and canadian taxpayers are fattening the fat-cats at the top of the fed bureaucracy. We have to fight all this wrongdoing.

  4. Ian, I agree with your grim comments; because those in authority who created this conflict are the same authority we are looking to for the resolution.
    Recall this all began when Chamberlain asked to be relocated away from her DG. When asking didn’t work, she begged and pleaded all to no avail.

    Has anyone seen John Grisham?

  5. There are enough federal and TBS policies, laws, guidelines already in place. these call for protecting against harassment, violence, and for accommodating victims.

    In the case of the hrdc victim, labour-board official records show TBS acknowledges and writes in their first volume that April 2008 the victim writes to the ADM regarding “acts of aggression of JA”. Those are TBS’ words in their volume.

    At that moment April 2008, the ADM (since promoted to DM-level likely accommodated for some inherent inability to manage properly) should have protected and moved the victim to any of the several buildings and branches hrdc had across Ottawa-Hull. This would have been in line with TBS harassment, safety, violence and accommodation policies.

    But, no this ADM ventured on her own to run her own TBS Harassment investigation, with the help, and against all procedures, of human resources and other senior ADMs.

    This is where the systemic “mobbing” began

    summer 2008, the aggressive, profane, sexually-inappropriate verbal and physical harassment were all written by these Executives. Never mind the victim was never even told a TBS investigation was being done. the executives wrote of the confirmed profanity, crossing all boundaries of personal space, demanding the victim to have hearts to hearts, being in physical contact with her.

    The ADM, in her report, threw in a few deceptive remarks against the victim: she didn’t follow JA’s advice that she hire more staff, she told JA too much to curb his physical behaviour, over time she had a look of anger on her face. Then the ADM wrote that the matter is dealt with and closed and she’s satisfied with the corrective measures.

    Lots of administrative failings and fallouts would follow – but the one of the biggest “mobbing” acts was hrdc + TBS’s request from early 2009 to the present that the victim sign the aggressor, illegally, as a third-party, never mind he’s a fully paid executive getting paid coaching and acting ADM pay.

    TBS senior reps and lawyers ACTIVELY continued this illegality thoughout 2010 – the effects of the wrongful discharge and this illegal request is held over the victim’s head today.

    TBS senior reps have led this process for over 2 years and wangled 4 postponements out of the labour board.

    another of the biggest “mobbing” acts were the Deputy minister’s henchmen sent from early 2009 to early 2010, threatening, phoning the victim’s house, emailing, writing threatening false letters – delivered to her door from Jan 2009 to Dec 2009. They put a claw-back of all her benefits and salary, applied a debt to the crown, handed her a Record of Employment in spring 2010.

    the lead henchmen, in a phone call, said that his colleague JA is just a big extrovert. in a meeting he slammed on the table and told the victim she was out of her mind if she thought they were going to sell her to another department.

    The victim suffering severe emotional trauma since the original repeated sexual and aggressive harassment, now terrified of the henchmen, with a debt to the crown, and ROE in Spring 2010, no salary, living in full anxiety over constant postponements at labour board, had to move out of her house.

    TBS in 2010, while wangling the labour board postponements and themselves writing that the victim must sign the third party form – they ALSO wrote in 2010 on signed letterhead that the “indeed she was the victim harassment”, “that she grieved unfairness and discrimination under TBS policies on harassment, ethics and accommodation”, “that the employer is satisfied with the corrective measures” (with JA? or with the henchmen/mobbers? one wonders), “that there was “no misconduct on the part of the victim”, and “that she was “not disciplined in any way”.

    (sure….never mind the unjust discharge and ROE they just handed her)

    Interesting questions: Does JA even know about all the lies and mobbing of senior Execs? Does JA even know that his employer, who’s been giving him acting ADM pay (coaching, french training etc) over last couple years and who wrote numerous time of their satisfaction with their corrections with him – does he know that his same employer hrdc + TBS wanted him signed as a third party? Does he know his employer wanted his name illegally on a form to dodge their liability that is clearly set out federal + TBS policies, laws, guidelines?

    most likely not. the systemic wrongdoing of TBS and Senior Execs in this case is utterly unbelievable.

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