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Hamilton cracks down on sexual harassment

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 Hamilton politicians are upset the city continues to pay out high severance packages to fired employees.

Their outraged reached a boiling point a few months ago when they discovered that a fired city transit employee received $200,000 payment who was later found by an arbitrator to have sexually harassed a female employee who he oversaw in his department.

“That was shocking,” said Dundas councillor Russ Powers.

Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark was beside himself, saying employees must be able to come to work free of any sexual or verbal harassment. He said this type of behaviour, and severance payouts would never happen in the private sector. He said the city’s harassment and discrimination policy must identify the city will have a zero tolerance for such behaviour.

“We need to drill down to make sure there is no harassment male or female,” said Clark. “We are not fooling around. This is not politics, this is serious.”

Lora Fontana, the city’s labour relations director, said in response to councillors’ concerns, she proposed a series of recommendations over employee terminations, including informing the city manager. But the recommendations were met with derision from some politicians, including Mountain councillor Scott Duvall, who said informing Hamilton’s top civil servant about a fired employee should already be part of management policy.

Councillors discussed the contentious issue further behind closed doors Dec. 3 in a more in-depth way that includes identifying specific employees.

City manager Chris Murray said later the city will take a hard-line look at employees who are involved in sexual harassment. He said employees engaged in such activity will be fired with cause, receiving no severance.

“We are not tolerating this type of behaviour,” said Murray. “We have to get tough on it. We want to address the negative and not just in words.”

Since 2011, the city has paid out about $2.1 million in severance to 37 fired managers.

Meanwhile, politicians discovered that only about half of the city employees have had performance reviews completed this year. That figure is an increase from 23 per cent of employees that had a review in 2009.

Councillors approved a recommendation to have a more aggressive performance reviews on employees each year.

 

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