Equity Ombudsperson: A resource for legal professionals
If an articling student, lawyer or staff member in your firm was experiencing personal harassment, discrimination or sexual harassment, would you be aware of it? Would you know how to handle it effectively?
In an effort to help stop workplace discrimination and encourage equitable workplace practices, the Law Society provides BC law firms with the services of Equity Ombudsperson Anne Bhanu Chopra.
Anne will confidentially help law firms resolve concerns over possible discrimination, prevent discrimination and promote a healthy work environment. The Ombudsperson is not a "complaints vehicle" for the Law Society and does not report back on particular cases, only on statistics and trends.
With a background in law, coaching, teaching, human resources and industrial relations, Anne brings a diverse bundle of skills to her role. And as a lawyer with 14 years of experience in small and medium-sized firms, she understands and relates to the issues in a legal work environment from the perspective of management, as well as associates and law students.
Law firms can contact Anne to assist them with workplace initiatives to promote equal opportunities and prohibit discriminatory practices. For smaller law firms that don't have the resources, Anne can provide consultation in developing policies, using equity and harassment policy templates.
Larger law firms may have equity and harassment policies but haven't yet developed the culture and the awareness to support them. Anne is available to facilitate a 30 to 60-minute seminar to educate members of a firm about established policies from a behavioural perspective.
Anne also provides confidential and non-judgmental support for victims of workplace harassment or inequity. There are many convoluted issues for a person experiencing harassment or discrimination. Anne can guide a person through this difficult time by providing a referral for counselling, informing them of various options available ranging from an informal resolution to the formal complaint process and legal routes, or being a sounding board for individuals who want support and understanding, but are not prepared to take any action.
“We use language such as ‘third party,’ ‘independent’ or ‘neutral,’” explains Anne, “but the bottom line is that a person wants a non-judgmental, safe place to talk about a serious issue that is embedded with emotions.”
The biggest emotion that prevents a victim of harassment or discrimination from seeking support is the feeling of embarrassment. Anne withholds any judgment about the offending person or the way the victim has handled the problem. Her focus is on acknowledging the situation and finding a workable solution.
Anne advises that it’s important to call her “even when there is only an inclination that a problem exists. You don’t have to be certain or define it — just be proactive. If things brew for too long, it’s harder to mediate a situation.” This advice applies to principals in law firms, victims of harassment or discrimination, as well as to individuals who realize that their words or actions may have been perceived as inappropriate.
Anne will offer coaching to individuals or partners in a firm on how to come to an early resolution so it doesn’t become a larger issue.
“If a firm has one individual that is the ‘bad apple’ and is becoming a ‘virus’ within the workplace,” cautions Anne, “it has huge implications.” Sometimes a person’s mannerisms, their approach, or not knowing where the boundaries are can unintentionally offend others in a firm. Perhaps a person has the intention of being funny, however, their jokes are being perceived as sexual or racial harassment. Anne can help resolve these situations by meeting with the individuals involved and recommending strategies to restore productivity and respect in the firm.
After eight years as Equity Ombudsperson, Anne knows that people are more inclined to contact her about an equity issue after they have had an opportunity to meet her. She endeavours to connect with the legal community through her volunteer work, presentations, information sessions, and training seminars. Anne wholeheartedly welcomes the opportunity to discuss respectful workplace initiatives with law firms and legal professionals.
For more information contact Anne Bhanu Chopra, Equity Ombudsperson, at 604-687-2344.
When to call the Equity Ombudsperson
- Your firm requires assistance in establishing workplace equity and harassment policies
- Your firm is interested in staff training sessions to promote a respectful workplace
- You are experiencing harassment or discrimination in your workplace
- You are witnessing an incident of harassment or discrimination in your workplace
- You are noticing a systemic problem involving equity in your workplace
- You suspect you “crossed the line” based on another person’s reaction
- You are seeking advice on an equity-related office policy