Directive on the harassment complaint process (2018)

1. Effective date

1.1 This directive is effective 30 July 2018. It replaces the 2016 Directive on the Harassment Complaint Process.

1.2 This directive is to be read in conjunction with the NRC Policy on Harassment Prevention and Conflict Resolution (2016) (the "Policy").

2. Application

This directive applies to NRC employees and to workplace circumstances as defined in the Policy.

3. Context

This directive is pursuant to the provisions of the above cited Policy that require the establishment and maintenance of an effective harassment complaint process. It also sets out specific roles and responsibilities for the designated officials involved in the application of this directive.

A harassment complaint is a serious matter requiring prompt attention and treatment with sensitivity, competence, and discretion. A primary goal of any process to address such a complaint should be resolution with the least disruption possible for the workplace and for all parties concerned.

Therefore, while the seriousness of harassment allegations calls for access to a careful and rigorous process from the outset, it is consistent with such a process that many cases may, upon closer exploration and with the consent of all parties, be effectively dealt with through informal resolution processes.

Details on the steps in the harassment complaint process can be found in The Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) Guide on Applying the Harassment Resolution Process

This directive is also to be read, when relevant, in conjunction with the following:

4. Directive statement

4.1 Objective

The objective of this directive is to describe the requirements for the harassment complaint process at NRC and for the achievement of the expected results below.

4.2 Expected results

This directive anticipates the following:

  • that complaints of harassment at NRC are handled fairly, confidentially, effectively, and in a timely manner; and
  • that steps are taken to restore the well-being of the workplace after such a complaint has been addressed.

The President of NRC is responsible for ensuring corrective measures are taken when significant issues arise in regard to compliance with this directive and for obtaining a report on compliance when required.

The Senior Ethics Officer in consultation with the Vice-President (Human Resources) and Secretary General will report to the President when actions are not implemented satisfactorily or in a timely manner.

5. The process

Typical timelines are provided in Annex A. Under exceptional circumstances, the Senior Ethics Officer can extend the timeframe. Where this will significantly impact the process, the parties and their management will be advised.

The Senior Ethics Officer is responsible for ensuring that the harassment complaint process is carried out promptly; respects the principles of procedural fairness towards the complainant, the respondent, and all other parties involved; and follows the practices set out in the steps listed below.

Prior to a formal written complaint

Any time prior to the submission of a formal, written complaint, employees or managers may contact the NRC Corporate Secretariat in respect to informal resolution options in difficult situations and workplace conflicts. This guidance would include direction to appropriate information and other support resources including those offered by the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and union representatives.

5.1 Reception and initial response

When a formal complaint is submitted in writing, the Senior Ethics Officer will, without undue delay (normally within five (5) working days), acknowledge receipt of the complaint in writing to the complainant. If the complainant copied other individuals, these individuals will receive a copy of this acknowledgement.

The initial response to the complaint should address the following questions and the written complaint should provide information necessary for appropriate consideration of these questions.

  • Is there an active complaint under a different process, such as a grievance or other formal mechanism, on the same issue or has it been dealt with through another avenue of recourse?
  • Does the written complaint relate to events that have taken place more than twelve (12) months earlier without any explanation for the delay in filing a complaint or description of extenuating circumstances?
  • Is there clear evidence that the complaint is frivolous, vexatious, or in bad faith?

If the response is "yes" to any one of the above, the complainant (and parties copied) will be informed in writing that the complaint is dismissed with the reason for the dismissal included.

Referral to another appropriate authority

If the response is no to all of the above, a second consideration rests on the following questions.

If the response is "yes" to one of the two questions above, the complainant (and parties copied) is (are) informed of the referral to another authority, and the reasons for the referral are cited.

If the answer is "no" to all of the above, the process will move to the Prima Facie Evaluation.

5.2 Prima facie evaluation

The Prima Facie Evaluation is conducted by the Senior Ethics Officer for complaints that have not been dismissed or referred. The Senior Ethics Officer will normally proceed to the Prima Facie Evaluation within eight (8) working days of the Initial Response. A prima facie evaluation of the complaint includes verification that the case as described in the Complaint meets the definition of "harassment" as set out in the NRC Policy on Harassment Prevention and Conflict Resolution (2016).

The written complaint is considered admissible only if it meets this definition. The determination in these matters is to be based on evidence and on how a reasonable person might perceive the cited conduct. The complainant (and persons copied on the complaint) are notified in writing without undue delay of the decision related to the admissibility of the complaint and of the reasons for the decision.

Regardless of the outcome, the Senior Ethics Officer may propose informal conflict resolution with relevant management in the parties’ unit(s).

The complainant may clarify his or her complaint and resubmit it with additional information on one occasion; however, without additional information, the initial decision will not be revised.

5.3 Communication of the complaint

Upon the decision of admissibility, the Senior Ethics Officer will seek guidance, as required, from the NRC's Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Coordinator to ensure that any personal information contained in communication on the complaint is handled in accordance with the requirements of the Privacy Act.

Once the documentation has been reviewed and, if necessary, redacted on the advice of the ATIP Coordinator, the Senior Ethics Officer transmits the complaint documentation to:

  1. first, the level of management to whom the respondent reports and/or other appropriate management; then within two (2) working days
  2. the respondent; and
  3. the complainant and persons previously copied on the complaint.

The Communication at this stage contains:

  • the next steps in the formal process;
  • the need for the appropriate management level to decide whether specific measures should be taken to limit deterioration of relations between the parties and to respond in writing on this issue;
  • the need for the appropriate management level to ensure that all persons associated with the complaint, including (if they are already aware of the complaint) colleagues of the parties and potential witnesses, understand the seriousness of the matter and the need to respect the sensitivity and confidentiality of the process;
  • the consequences of potential reprisals against complainants, witnesses or respondents, and that actions of this nature could lead to disciplinary measures; and
  • the anticipated financial costs of the complaint resolution process (informal conflict resolution fees or formal investigation fees), which the responsible Branch, Program or Centre will bear;

The parties will be made aware of the options for informal resolution and asked to indicate in writing their intention in relation to the informal process. The complaint will be put in abeyance until responses are received or five (5) working days pass. No matter the response at this stage, this abeyance might be invoked at any time in the formal process should all parties agree to alternative approaches.

5.4 Investigation

Therefore, after five (5) working days and in the absence of a mutual agreement to pursue other processes, the Senior Ethics Officer will proceed to the Investigation stage as below and will inform the parties accordingly.

The Senior Ethics Officer will reference and follow the process set out by the Treasury Board Secretariat for investigations involving members of the core public service.

Responsibilities of the Senior Ethics Officer

The Senior Ethics Officer ensures that all stages of the investigation process are completed in a timely fashion while maintaining contact with the Investigator throughout the Investigation and is specifically responsible for the following actions:

  • Taking measures to select and mandate an external investigator that meets the Competencies Profile for Harassment Investigators within federal organizations ( as set by the Treasury Board Secretariat);
  • Providing a copy of the complaint and complementary information to the investigator;
  • Providing direct assistance and identifying any resource persons required to assist the investigation;
  • Ensuring that the parties understand their rights and responsibilities, including their right to be accompanied during the investigation process;
  • Approving the investigation plan (consistent with the timelines in Annex A); and
  • Receiving any reports of difficulties threatening the integrity of the process.

This process includes:

  • Selecting, Contracting, and Mandating the Investigator, in accordance with established contracting procedures;
  • Planning the Investigation with due consideration of the availability of the selected investigator and the complexity of the complaint;
  • Conducting the Investigation to establish the facts, a stage that will depend on the availability of the parties involved and of any witnesses. If the investigator discovers that the complaint could be resolved through mediation or other means, he or she can inform the Senior Ethics Officer accordingly at any point in the Investigation; and
  • Monitoring and Reporting the Status of the process to the parties and management at least monthly.

5.5 Final analysis and conclusion

At this stage, the investigator considers the facts, the relevant policies or regulations, applicable jurisprudence, extenuating circumstances, and any other relevant information.

The investigator must decide whether specific behavior amounts to harassment. In order to make a finding of harassment, the matter must meet the definition of harassment as set out in the Policy, and this would mean that each of the elements listed below must be present. If even one of these elements cannot be proven, there will not likely be a finding of harassment.

  • the conduct was improper and offensive;
  • the behavior was directed at the complainant;
  • the complainant was offended or harmed; and
  • the person accused of harassment knew or reasonably ought to have known that this behavior would cause offence or harm to the complainant.

The investigator also considers whether there is evidence that the allegations are vexatious or were made in bad faith (allegations made for the purpose of annoying or embarrassing a person or allegation calculated to lead to no practical result).

When there are no witnesses or corroborating documents to be examined, the investigator should consider the likelihood of the allegations being valid, according to their plausibility and the logical flow of the facts, if the facts are well explained or sufficiently detailed.

Factors that can affect the credibility of the source or witnesses include:

  • Direct, firsthand knowledge of the allegations;
  • Expertise in the relevant subject area;
  • Relationship between the source and the parties; and
  • Consistency or contradictions in testimony.

5.7 Rendering a decision

The Senior Ethics Officer:

  • receives the final report prepared by the investigator and determines, normally within ten (10) working days, if the conclusion of the investigator is to be accepted, based on the soundness of the facts, the reasonableness of the analysis, procedural fairness, and the conclusions;
  • informs the appropriate management and the human resources generalist of the decision; then within 48 hours
  • informs the parties of the investigator's decision and provides the parties with a copy of the Final Report after ensuring that the report respect the provisions of the Access to Information and Privacy Acts; and
  • provides a copy of the final report to appropriate management to facilitate remediation of the workplace. All those receiving a copy of the Final Report must handle it as a sensitive document and only allow access to those with a need to know. For represented employees, a copy may be shared with their bargaining agent by the member.

When this is done, the investigation is administratively closed for the Senior Ethics Officer.

Parties who are dissatisfied with the investigation report or with the decision of the Senior Ethics Officer may challenge it through different means:

  • Judicial Review
  • Filing a grievance to the Secretary General
  • Filing a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission if a prohibited ground of discrimination was a factor.

5.8 Restoring the well-being of the workplace

In the above communication on the decision, the Senior Ethics Officer informs relevant management of its responsibility to restore the well-being of the workplace.

Immediately upon notification of the Decision, local management will take steps to minimize interactions between the parties until a preliminary plan to restore the workplace is established.

Initial planning meetings with both parties individually by the responsible manager will normally be held within five (5) working days of the receipt by all parties of the Decision.

If no subsequent process is commenced, a workplace restoration plan acceptable to HR and LR will normally be put in place by the responsible VP and local management within fifteen (15) working days of receipt of the Decision by the VP.

As this step may be very complex, the manager and any other interested party should seek support of the NRC Human Resources Branch and reference the Treasury Board Website and other appropriate resourcesFootnote 1.

The manager will prepare a follow-up plan that includes:

  • measures to support the complainant;
  • measures to support the respondent;
  • measures to support the work group;
  • reference to resource persons that are used to implement the plan;
  • issues to be considered in evaluating the process (hostility, absenteeism, employee turnover, recurring conflict among team members, lowered productivity, decrease in quality of work, lack of social interaction among team members, lack of motivation, and employees taking sides); and
  • reporting back to the Senior Ethics Officer, who may follow up or escalate concerns when warranted.

6. References

6.1 Other relevant legislation/regulations:

6.2 Related policy instruments/publications

Summary of process and timeline

Step Response
Reception and Initial Response Normally five (5) Working days
Prima Facie Evaluation Normally eight (8) Working Days
ATIP Review and Redaction of Complaint Normally within five (5) working days from completion of prima facie analysis
Communication of Complaint to Management Within five (5) working days of ATIP Office review and redaction
Communication of Complaint to Respondent and Complainant Normally within two (2) working days of acknowledgement of receipt by manager
Abeyance for consideration of informal processes Maximum of five (5) working days
Selecting, Contracting, and Mandating the Investigator Normally within twenty-five (25) working days from receipt of formal written notice that at least one essential party does not wish to commence or continue an informal conflict resolution process
Planning and Conducting the Investigation Dependent upon availability of selected investigator, participation of the parties involved, and the complexity of the complaint. Should not exceed two (2) months.
Final Analysis and Conclusion Final Investigative Report should be submitted by the investigator two (2) months after commencing interviews
ATIP Review and Redaction of Final Investigative Report Normally within eight (8) working days of receipt of the Final Investigative Report
Rendering a decision Normally within ten (10) working days of ATIP review of the Conclusion
Restoring the well-being of the workplace A workplace restoration plan will normally be put in place within fifteen (15) working days of receipt of the Decision by the VP.


Footnote 1

See TBS Guidelines Restoring the Workplace following a Harassment Complaintto manage sensitive and complex issues related to harassment in the federal workplace with the aim of restoring a respectful work environment once a formal process has been initiated.

Return to footnote 1 referrer

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