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The Advisory: Volume 9, Issue 2, August 2011


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A Neutral Corner

Developing a Respectful Workplace Policy for your Firm

By Jocelyn Frazer, Equity Ombudsperson, Law Society of Alberta

CREATING a respectful work environment leads to a higher productivity, improved loyalty and less turnover. And, ultimately, the delivery of higher quality legal services.

Developing and implementing a respectful work policy aims to prevent conflict from occurring through building positive working relationships. If conflict does occur, its prompt resolution is encouraged through a mechanism for early problem resolution.

Respect for individuals, including valuing their differences, is a key component to a respectful workplace policy. In this sense, the review or implementation of other personnel policies which accommodate firm members’ diverse needs is also tied to a respectful workplace policy.

The policy’s goal is to have a workplace where everyone is treated with dignity and is free from discrimination or harassment. In order to accomplish these goals, the policy extends beyond the prohibited grounds of discrimination found in Alberta’s Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act to also address workplace harassment of a general nature such as rude, degrading or intimidating remarks or emails, threats or intimidation.

Workplace training is used to create awareness about working relationships so that firm members have the skills to prevent and respond to conflicts appropriately. In this sense, the policy attempts to identify and rectify problems before they reach the formal complaint stage. When conflicts do occur, procedures are in place to resolve them informally if possible. If this is not possible, formal complaint and investigation procedures are available.

Implementing a respectful workplace policy is a long-term process towards organizational change. Legal workplaces should be aware that resistance to change is a normal reaction that can be planned for and be overcome.

Implementation of a successful respectful workplace policy will promote the well-being of all at the firm and reinforce the values of integrity and trust that are the foundation of a sound organization.

The Law Society of Alberta has developed a Guide to Developing a Respectful Workplace and a sample Respectful Workplace Policy which firms can download and adopt. The Guide and the sample policy are available on the Law Society’s website at www.lawsociety.ab.ca.

These were created by the Law Society’s Equality and Diversity Committee which has a mandate to help the profession identify, understand and address equality, diversity and equity issues. The Committee consists of Benchers of the Law Society, designates from both law schools in the province and representatives from the Canadian Bar Association.

As part of its mandate, the Committee has developed guidelines and sample policies in key areas, such as parental leave, interviewing practices, and alternative working schedules. Through consultations with members of the profession, the Committee concluded that information should be provided to assist firms and legal workplaces in the development and implementation of a respectful workplace policy. These are available on the website www. lawsociety.ab.ca under the tab, For Lawyers/ Equity Ombudsperson.

For more information, or to discuss other issues, please contact Jocelyn Frazer by email or at 403-229-4769.

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