From the new Equity Ombudsperson

Why your staff should know about this service

by Anne Bhanu Chopra

I am pleased to announce that my title of Discrimination Ombudsperson has now changed to Equity Ombudsperson. The change supports the goals and philosophy of the position and is consistent with the approach taken in other provinces.

As Ombudsperson, I receive telephone calls and emails from lawyers and staff, on a wide range of equity concerns, such as:

  • How can our firm draft a proper harassment and discrimination policy?
  • How should we deal with sexual harassment? What about personal harassment?
  • How can we evaluate our mentoring and other in-house programs from an equity perspective?
  • What options are available to me if I'm facing harassment or some other form of discrimination?

After holding the position of Ombudsperson for the last two years, it is quite apparent to me that callers benefit the most from the program by calling me on a proactive basis. For this reason, I encourage law firms to make all their lawyers and staff aware of their options. That means advertising a firm's own workplace policies, but also the services of the Equity Ombudsperson program.

Because the Equity Ombudsperson program is confidential and independent from both law firms and the Law Society, it offers a safe environment for someone to discuss discrimination issues and available options. The benefit of early contact for concerns of discrimination is critical. I can often help a staff person, a firm (or both) tackle a problem on a proactive basis before the problem worsens, or even results in litigation.

Many callers have told me that they found out about my services too late and, by then, felt their options were limited. While I promote the program to lawyers and to staff as much as possible, the law firm is best positioned to advise staff that an independent service is available, and to describe the service within its workplace policies.

A brief word about workplace policies. Many firms adopt them, then expect adherence without further work on their part. In fact, firms need to undertake consistent and ongoing education to show commitment to the policies and equity issues. This is clearly in management's interest, from both a legal and business perspective, as the case law shows.

Two other points are worth noting. Workplace policies must be updated and they must contain specific examples of both acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, so that lawyers and staff have more than a theoretical concept of what constitutes harassment and discrimination.

These are just a few steps that firms can take towards a more equitable workplace. Would you like to know more? Feel free to contact my office if you have any questions, comments or concerns, or would like me to visit your firm to hold an information session on the program.

I can be reached on my confidential, dedicated telephone line at (604) 687-2344 or by email at achopra@novus-tele.net.