Just over a year after one B.C Mountie tragically took his own life, HR managers are being reminded of the importance of handling harassment complaints in a timely fashion.
Cpl. Neil Ogurian first filed an official complaint with the RCMP in 2007 but by 2014 a resolution still hadn’t been reached – the 56-year-old’s grieving girlfriend says this prolonged frustration pushed him to take his own life.
"The RCMP strung him along with false promises and eventually drove him to suicide," Julia Chapacharis - Ogurian's long-term parter - told CBC News. "They took away the man I love, my partner…and destroyed Neil's life," she added.
Chapacharis claims the bullying started in 2007, when Ogurian was promoted and transferred to Langley B.C.
"He was harassed by an inspector and that led him to file a grievance," she told reporters, explaining the new boss didn’t like Ogurian, who has been the only qualified applicant. He was then transferred back to his previous job and demoted to the lower-ranking constable position.
In 2012, a superintendent signed an "early resolution outcome document," agreeing to apologize to Ogurian, pay his legal bills and – most importantly – remove a negative assessment from his file which was hindering his chances of promotion.
However, before the deal went through, the super-intendant retired and his replacement refused to honour the agreement – according to emails obtained by CBC News.
Chapacharis says her late-boyfriend’s frustration neared breaking point – “What is the moral, legal and ethical reason why I am still waiting?" he asked, 11 months before his death.
It took the RCMP three months to answer, requesting a meeting with the new boss to discuss the issue.
"Neil was frustrated and thought managers were abusing their authority," says an officer who spoke to him the day before his death, but wished to remain anonymous. "That just added to the mental stress, because he had no faith they were ever going to honour the agreement that would have vindicated him."
Three days before his death, the RCMP emailed requesting yet another meeting about the now seven-year-old harassment complaint.
Friend and former supervisor Cpl. Rolly Beaulieu said the force was simply “playing games with Neil, mentally abusing him.”
Employment lawyer Sarah Crossley told HRM that organizations should take all harassment claims seriously.
“It’s important that employers treat all complaints seriously and if they decide to investigate, it needs to be effective and fair,” Crossley said.
“If you fail to investigate, if you do a shoddy job or if you don’t get the right people to do it, then there is a significant risk from a financial liability perspective but there’s also a reputational risk to employers,” she continued – not to mention the devastating psychological impact that the problem could be having on your employees.
Labour lawyer Keri Bennett agrees – she told HRM that time is of the essence when it comes to investigating complaints and, if employers find themselves under pressure, they should consider turning to an external investigator.
“Of course, there are sophisticated, highly trained HR staff who are perfectly capable of undertaking an investigation – but there are still reasons you might want to farm it out,” she said, citing time constraints as a prime example.
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