There has been an increase in the number of violent incidents and harassment toward regional district staff over the last 20 months, says the RDCK’s human resources advisor.
Lindsay Gaschnitz said preparation of a new respectful behaviour bylaw — at the direction of the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) board of directors — has begun for all RDCK places of work, covering regional district staff on private property and at public meetings.
Experience and “substantial” anecdotal evidence over the last couple of years have shown a significant increase of inappropriate public behaviour for all sectors, she said in her report to the board.
“Recently, we have seen a steep rise in the reporting of violent incidences from workers. Incidents range from vandalism to violence to harassment; incidents that jeopardize the safety and wellbeing of residents, visitors and RDCK staff,” Gaschnitz wrote.
“Incidents involving members of the public behaving inappropriately occur somewhat frequently at these district facilities, offices and in the field.”
As a result, regional district staff will be reviewing the current program in order to formulate improvements to protect workers from the violent behaviours in the workplace.
Gaschnitz said improvements could include “improved de-escalation training, faster and better reporting and tracking, consistent investigation mechanisms and improve the communication with the public.
“While we are able to improve program elements to train and support workers, and to inform the public that we disapprove of their violent treatment of our workers, what will still be missing is clarity, consistency or regularity in regards to what we can actually do to dissuade the public from committing violent acts at our worksites in the first place,” she wrote.
When a violent act does occur there is currently little or no recourse for the perpetrators, nor enough to discourage repeated behaviours, Gaschnitz pointed out.
In place now
The current response taken by the regional district to address the inappropriate behaviour toward staff is varied.
Management of violent incidences is handled on a case-by-case basis, based on the seriousness of the behaviour.
Actions have ranged from:
• issuing a letter of expectations to the individual(s) that behaved inappropriately;
• requiring the individual(s) to meet with staff to discuss rules or expected behaviours in facilities; and
• suspending the individual(s) from entering district facilities for a defined period of time.
Source: RDCK agenda staff report
Definition of violence
In order to develop a violence prevention program, the definition of violence must first be made, Gaschnitz said.
The regional district has developed a definition of violence based on information from WorkSafeBC and the World Health Organization, she said.
The definition includes:
• the attempted or actual exercise by a person, other than a worker, of any physical force so as to cause injury to a worker, and includes any threatening statement or behavior (including unwanted sexual advances) which gives a worker reasonable cause to believe that they are at risk of injury (i.e. that their physical self or mental health is at risk).
Reports of violence from workers have included, but are not limited to:
• sexual comments about their body;
• having boxes thrown at them;
• being shouted at while given the middle finger;
• being called names;
• vandalized worksites following altercations with members of the public; and
• threats to their safety, including racial slurs.
Source: RDCK agenda staff report
Direction on directors
The bylaw will likely leave the regional district directors out of the mix.
Local governments have the right to regulate and manage public space, as long as the regulation is within constitutional requirements.
“However, with respect to access to elected officials and exercising democratic rights, the standard is much higher and, for example, it would generally not be possible to limit someone’s ability to attend board meetings without a court order,” said Gaschnitz in her report.
“Also, elected officials are generally expected to have a ‘thicker skin’ than less senior staff, so a different standard may apply to these interactions/communications.”
Since directors do not meet the definition of staff or volunteer, the level for what they may be expected to tolerate is very high, she added.
Directors could request protection during public meetings, or provisions for removing people who are disrupting a meeting, Gaschnitz said, and it would be added into the bylaw.