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Policy & Procedures

In this section you can access a complete copy of the Policy and read important highlights of its procedures, including key definitions and a summary of the levels of confidentiality and reporting requirements.

Policy

McMaster University is committed to maintaining a community where we can work, study and live free of discrimination and harassment.

The University upholds a fundamental commitment to freedom of expression and association for all its members and to academic freedom for faculty. In exercising those freedoms, all its members are required to respect the rights and freedoms of others, including the right to freedom from discrimination and harassment.

The University has a legal and moral responsibility to deal with discrimination and/or harassment promptly and fairly, and in a way that is accessible to all members of the community. Prevention is a University commitment, and the Policy communicates the expectation of and support for a work/study space that is free from discrimination and harassment.

This Policy is guided by the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act, as well as by other legislation, policies and collective agreements.

Plain Language Policy Summary

This Plain Language Summary gives general information about McMaster University's Policy on Discrimination, Harassment and Sexual Harassment: Prevention and Response (the “Policy”).
This is an overview only; the actual Policy governs.

There are three Intake Offices:

Equity and Inclusion Office (formerly Human Rights & Equity Services)
(available to all members of the University community)
McMaster University Student Centre (MUSC) Room 212
Phone: (905) 525-9140 ext. 27581
Email: equity@mcmaster.ca

Employee/Labour Relations (available to all employees)
Gilmour Hall, Room 304
Phone: (905) 525-9140 ext. 23850
Email: elrintake@mcmaster.ca

Faculty of Health Sciences Professionalism Office (available to all
members in the Faculty of Health Sciences)
Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Learning (MDCL) Room 3519
Phone: (905) 525-9140 ext. 22417
Email: fhsprof@mcmaster.ca

Each of the Intake Offices, and different offices and Persons in Authority on campus may have slightly different levels of confidentiality, or duties to act and report. Be sure to ask the person you are talking to what their level of confidentiality is, before you tell them the details of the concern. For more information on confidentiality, see sections 65 – 74 in the Policy.
The Policy applies to all members of the McMaster University community and visitors to campus.
The Policy applies in the areas of work, study, residence, buying goods, getting services and using buildings on campus. It applies to misconduct that happens on University property and at McMaster University-related events. Sometimes the Policy can include misconduct that happens off-campus or on social media (depending on the people involved).

The Policy prohibits harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination.

  • Discrimination means treating an individual or group of individuals unequally whether by imposing extra burdens or denying benefits. It may involve direct actions that are discriminatory on their face, or it may involve rules, practices or procedures that appear neutral, but disadvantage certain groups of people.
    • Harassment and sexual harassment are forms of discrimination because they create unequal and unfair circumstances for targeted individuals.
  • Harassment is repeated words and/or actions that are unwelcome, without legitimate reason, and harmful. If a comment or action is severe, one incident may be enough to be harassment.
  • Sexual harassment includes unwelcome words or actions that are sexual in nature. It may also include rewards/promises of rewards for complying with sexual demands. Sexual harassment may also include inappropriate gender-based comments about a person’s physical appearance, mannerisms, gender identity or gender expression or gender-related verbal abuse, threats or taunting.
  • Poisoned environment. Sometimes harassing and/or discriminatory behaviour can create a poisoned environment. A poisoned environment can undercut someone’s work or learning, even when someone is not the direct target of the harassing or discriminatory behaviour. This poisoned environment can interfere with working, studying or living at McMaster and can cause emotional and psychological stress. The Policy includes protection from a poisoned environment.

The Policy provides protection from harassment or discrimination on the basis of one or more of several grounds. Some of these grounds include (see the Policy for complete list):

  • Age
  • Ancestry, Citizenship, Colour, Race, Place of/Ethnic Origin,
  • Creed (Religion, Spirituality)
  • Disability
  • Marital status, Family Status
  • Sex (including sexual harassment and pregnancy), Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity/Expression
  • Language, accent or dialect
  • Political belief/membership
  • Employee group status

Note: The Policy does not cover acts of violence, threats of violence, or sexual assault. These are covered by the McMaster University Policy on Violence in the Workplace, the McMaster University Violence Program and Guidelines and the Sexual Violence Response Protocol.

All members of the University community have 3 responsibilities:

  1. Create and preserve a place that is free from harassment and discrimination
  2. Be aware of the range of behaviours that the Policy covers
  3. When possible, report experiences of discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment or harassment based on gender, and anything that you think may be a poisoned environment

No. The Policy names certain people as having more responsibility.

  • These people are called Persons in Authority (PiA). PiAs include, but are not limited to: supervisors, managers, directors, academic chairs and directors, associate vice-presidents, and other senior managers
  • PiAs also are individuals in leadership positions including, but not limited to: teaching assistants in a tutorial, student society leaders in a society meeting, an instructor in a classroom
  • It is important for PiAs to listen, explain confidentiality, and explore whether the behaviour falls under the Policy, and explain how the Policy works
  • PiAs at any time may talk to an Intake office to get information, training, or support
  • Find out more information about PiAs and their specific responsibilities by reading the Policy (see sections 43-53)
A concern is when a person has a worry or needs advice, but is not yet sure that they want to take any action to address the concern. A complaint is when a person asks the PiA or Intake Office to take action to help them with the situation, either informally or formally.

People who have a concern or complaint are encouraged to talk with an Intake Coordinator in an Intake Office (see contact information above). In addition, people may talk to:

  • A Person in Authority (supervisor, chair, instructor, etc.)
  • Ombuds Office, Chaplaincy Centre, Student Wellness Centre, Residence Manager or any other University office that a person feels comfortable approaching
  • Any other trusted individual, group or association; for example, a union or professional association
  • The person hearing the concern will tell you about the steps involved in the informal and formal complaint processes.
  • Talking to one of the above people does not commit you to anything, but be sure to ask about their level of confidentiality before disclosing the details of the concern
People are protected from reprisals (retaliation) for bringing forward a concern or complaint. Anyone found to be taking part in reprisals or threats may face sanctions under the Policy.
If you are named as a respondent to a complaint, you are encouraged to contact an Intake Office to discuss your rights and responsibilities. The Intake Coordinator will also provide you with information about support services and resources available to you, and details about the complaint processes.

The PiA or Intake Coordinator will review these options with people.

  • Informally. If you choose, the Intake Coordinator or PiA may try to resolve complaints informally, whenever possible, and to do so as quickly as possible for the benefit of all involved (usually within 30 business days from when the complaint is made).
  • Formally. In some circumstances, a formal complaint process may be more suitable. Only a formal complaint can determine that a violation of the policy has occurred. You can choose to make a formal complaint without attempting an informal process.
    • A formal complaint includes: a written account of the complaint, an investigation by an internal or external investigator, and a decision made by the appropriate senior administrator, based on the investigator’s report.
  • University Initiated Investigation. If the University sees that there is a possible poisoned environment, or a pattern of concerns in the same area or about the same individual or group, it may begin a University Initiated Investigation. In this case, an external investigator would speak to witnesses about the concerns, and individuals will have an opportunity to be complainants if they have specific concerns that they need addressed within the broader investigation. Like in a formal complaint, the investigator will write a report, and the appropriate Associate Vice-President will decide whether the policy has been violated and what the consequences will be.
An Associate Vice-President is responsible for deciding what needs to happen to stop the harassment and/or discrimination, to resolve or repair the conflict, and to make sure that harassment and or discrimination does not happen again.

The consequence or remedy must match the severity of the violation. Consequences can include:

  • A written apology
  • Being suspended or expelled from school
  • A leave from work
  • Being fired from a job
  • No Contact Order, which means no contact between two people
  • Being banned from campus or specific areas of campus
If the person against whom the complaint is made disagrees with the decision in a Formal Complaint, the AVP will refer the matter to the Tribunal for a hearing. If the person who made the complaint disagrees, they have the option of requesting a hearing.
  • The University recognizes the importance of confidentiality to anyone coming forward with a concern or complaint, and for anyone named as an alleged respondent.
  • A person hearing the concern/complaint may have different reporting requirements that may limit their confidentiality, and may have a duty to contact Security Services or the appropriate University administrator if they believe there is a health and/or safety risk to themselves or another person.
  • Individuals are expected to take part in whichever process is chosen to resolve a complaint.
  • Interim measures may be necessary to protect everyone's health and safety. Interim measures may include, but are not limited to: changes in courses, a switch in residence room, modifications to job duties.
  • Individuals are encouraged to bring forward a concern or complaint as soon as possible after an incident; people have one year from the last incident of harassment and/or discrimination to do so.
  • Individuals have the right to bring a support person with them throughout the process of discussing a concern or filing a complaint. A support person may be a friend, an advisor, or a union representative.

Definition of Terms

Discrimination
means an unjust or prejudicial form of unequal treatment, whether imposing extra burdens or denying benefits. It may be intentional or unintentional. It may involve direct actions that are discriminatory on their face, or it may involve rules, practices or procedures that appear neutral, but disadvantage certain groups of people. Discrimination may take obvious forms, or it may happen in very subtle ways. Even if there are many factors affecting a decision or action, if discrimination is one factor that is a violation of this Policy.
Not every distinction is discriminatory even if one can identify a distinction on the facts (e.g. distinctions made under policies such as Awards, Scholarships, CP/M, Statement on Academic Freedom, Framework for Merit Allocation TMG).
  • Harassment and sexual harassment are forms of discrimination because they create unequal and unfair circumstances for targeted individuals.
Harassment
means engagement in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. "Vexatious" comment or conduct is comment or conduct made without reasonable cause or excuse. Harassment includes sexual and/or gender-based harassment as defined below.
If a comment or action is severe, one incident may be enough to be harassment.

Effective January 1, 2017, sexual or gender-based harassment falls under the auspices of the Sexual Violence Policy. The policy on Discrimination, Harassment & Sexual Harassment: Prevention & Response is currently under review to reflect this change.
Sexual and/or Gender-Based Harassment
is comment and/or conduct of a sexual or gender-based nature directed at or about an individual or group by another individual or group where it is known, or ought reasonably to be known, that the comment/conduct is unwelcome and/or unwanted.
It may include: rewards/promises of rewards for complying with sexual demands and inappropriate gender-based comments about a person’s physical appearance, mannerisms, gender identity or gender expression or gender-related verbal abuse, threats or taunting.
Poisoned Environment
Where harassing and/or discriminatory conduct are sufficiently severe and/or pervasive and cause significant and unreasonable interference to a person’s study or work environment, they may be deemed as creating an intimidating and/or hostile work or study environment. A poisoned environment can interfere with and/or undermine work or academic performance and can cause emotional and psychological stress for some employees or students not experienced by other employees or students. As such, it results in unequal terms and conditions of employment or study and prevents or impairs full and equal enjoyment of employment or educational services, benefits, or opportunities.
Persons in Authority
Persons in Authority include, but are not limited to: workplace supervisors, managers, directors, academic chairs and directors, associate vice-presidents, and other senior managers.
Persons in Authority also include individuals in leadership positions including, but not limited to: teaching assistants in a tutorial, student society leaders in a society meeting, an instructor in a classroom.

Guiding Principles

Offensiveness and Illegality of Discrimination and Harassment
Discrimination and harassment are offensive, illegal, and incompatible with McMaster University’s goal of building an inclusive community.
Recognition of Power Relations
Discrimination and harassment often involve abuses of power through university structures and/or imbalances of power related to social identities.
Fairness
All parties involved in complaints will be treated fairly.
Enabling Access
All members of the community should have access to the same processes and procedures to ensure consistent treatment of all issues.
Support
Coming forward with a concern or complaint, or being named as a respondent may be difficult. Individuals will receive appropriate support, respect, and assistance throughout the process.
Confidentiality and Disclosure
The University protects confidentiality as far as the law permits or in order to protect the health and safety of members of the campus and/or broader community.
Expectation of Participation
Everyone is encouraged to participate in the informal processes where possible and appropriate. If there is an investigation members of the community are expected to cooperate in the process, if asked. Lack of cooperation will not stop an investigation.
Timeliness
Complaints of discrimination and harassment will be addressed, and University action to prevent or repair incidents will be taken, in a timely manner.
Institutional Learning
The University will gather and use data on discrimination and harassment to inform ongoing prevention.

Confidentiality and Reporting Requirements

Points of Access and their respective confidentiality, reporting, and record keeping requirements:

Equity and Inclusion Office (EIO)

Assurance of confidentiality, with the following limitations:

  1. if the health and/or safety of an individual or group may be at risk; or
  2. if the University is subject to legal proceedings that in the opinion of the Provost and Vice-President (Academic) or the Vice-President (Administration), (in consultation with the President) require the disclosure of information; or
  3. if the disclosure of information is required at law, e.g. as required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

EIO, ELR, Faculty of Health Sciences Professionalism Office, and/or Security Services may share information on a need-to-know basis.

Matters relating to graduate student supervision and postdoctoral fellows may need to be reported to the Associate Vice-President and Dean of Graduate Studies.

If an investigation is initiated that involves employees, EIO must advise ELR of the identities of the parties.

All notes and materials will be maintained in a confidential file for seven years after the matter is closed.

Copies of each Investigation Dossier related to a University Initiated Investigation or a Formal Complaint will be maintained in a confidential file for seven years.

Employee/Labour Relations (ELR)

Assurance of confidentiality, with the following limitations:

  1. if the health and/or safety of an individual or group may be at risk; or
  2. if the University is subject to legal proceedings that in the opinion of the Provost and Vice-President (Academic) or the Vice-President (Administration), (in consultation with the President) require the disclosure of information; or
  3. if the disclosure of information is required at law, e.g. as required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act; or
  4. if ELR becomes aware of an incident of discrimination or harassment in the University community.

EIO, ELR, Faculty of Health Sciences Professionalism Office, and/or Security Services may share information on a need-to-know basis.

Matters relating to graduate student supervision and postdoctoral fellows may need to be reported to the Associate Vice-President and Dean of Graduate Studies.

If an investigation is initiated that involves employees, ELR must advise EIO of the identities of the parties.

All notes and materials will be maintained in a confidential file for seven years after the matter is closed.

Faculty of Health Sciences Professionalism Office

Assurance of confidentiality, with the following limitations:

  1. if the health and/or safety of an individual or group may be at risk; or
  2. if the University is subject to legal proceedings that in the opinion of the Provost and Vice-President (Academic) or the Vice-President (Administration), (in consultation with the President) require the disclosure of information; or
  3. if the disclosure of information is required at law, e.g. as required by the Occupational Health and Safety Act; or
  4. if disclosure is required by the Faculty of Health Sciences professional behaviour codes or obligations under health profession guidelines.

EIO, ELR, Faculty of Health Sciences Professionalism Office, and/or Security Services may share information on a need-to-know basis.

Matters relating to graduate student supervision and postdoctoral fellows may need to be reported to the Associate Vice-President and Dean of Graduate Studies.

All notes and materials will be maintained in a confidential file for seven years after the matter is closed.

Ombuds

Confidential advice and assistance to all members of the University Community.

Limitation to confidentiality is in cases involving the commission of a serious crime or where there is an imminent risk of physical harm or abuse.

A Person in Authority (PIA)

Will protect confidentiality to the extent practicable, subject to a fair resolution process and reporting requirements.

At any time, if believe health or safety of members of the McMaster community is at risk, must notify Director of Security Services and the appropriate administrative officer of the University.

PIA must consult with one of the three Intake Offices.

Matters relating to graduate student supervision and postdoctoral fellows may need to be reported to the Associate Vice-President and Dean of Graduate Studies.

Resolved matters must be reported to EIO.

Notes and materials retained for seven years after last use.

A University Office

(e.g. Student Accessibility Services, Student Wellness Centre, Residence Life Office, etc.)

Will protect confidentiality to the extent practicable, subject to a fair resolution process and reporting requirements.

At any time, if believe health or safety of members of the McMaster community is at risk, must notify Director of Security Services and the appropriate administrative officer of the University.

Office must consult with one of the three Intake Offices.

Matters relating to graduate student supervision and postdoctoral fellows may need to be reported to the Associate Vice-President and Dean of Graduate Studies.

Resolved matters must be reported to EIO.