ADR, Mediation

Ontario should follow B.C. lead in construction ADR: Romero

By Rob Lamberti, Contributor

Toronto mediator and lawyer Victoria Romero says Ontario should follow the lead of the British Columbia construction sector and introduce a conflict resolution plan for workplace harassment claims.

Romero, principal of VR Law, says it would be wise for Ontario to adopt the B.C. model of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

B.C.’s Builders Code is a pilot program announced in March to bring mediation to construction work sites for issues like hazing, harassment and bullying.

“Construction employers who want to address diversity or harassment issues on their worksites but lack the human resources personnel or expertise to do so will now have access to confidential advisers with experience in H.R. management, mediation and conflict resolution as part of the Builders Code recently launched by the B.C. Construction Association and project partners,” the Builders Code website notes.

There are more than 23,000 construction-related firms with 20 or fewer employees in the province, and the Builders Code says the objective is to help employers resolve conflicts “fairly, quickly, and productively for all parties, and in the process to improve the employer’s ability to confidently communicate expectations and manage such situations independently in future.”

Romero tells that conflict is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean there has to be a negative connotation to it.

“It happens,” she says. “How do you deal with it? I think it’s a very good move to establish a third-party mediator that will help the construction industry in instances of harassment.”

She says mediation is the “sensible approach to dealing with conflict,” and now B.C. contractors who don’t have experience with people issues can now rely on an independent third party to help resolve issues.

Romero says the Builders Code is a “very good resource” because it encourages a work environment that’s safe for everyone. The ability for advisers to mediate issues quickly ensures that conflicts are resolved before they get out of hand.

“Harassment and bullying don’t just happen along gender lines. They can happen in a hierarchical situation, such as a boss who isn’t treating a worker properly, or the foreman is a bully, or a worker is bullying a co-worker,” she says.

“I think it’s a positive step forward to provide this resource because they can have a time-responsive resolution.”

Romero expects the program will have a “transformative effect” that will foster a healthier work environment for all construction workers.

Ontario, meanwhile, is introducing an adjudication process to help resolve payment disputes in a timely fashion in the province’s construction industry. The process, part of a number of amendments to the Construction Act, comes into effect Oct. 1, 2019.

Using adjudication as a resource will help speed up the conflict resolution process, Romero says.

“The legal process is simply not addressing all these issues in the best possible way. It’s expensive, and it takes a long time,” she says. “With the changes, they can go to adjudication, where the adjudicator has to write a decision within 30 days.”

Romero says establishing ADR processes that deal with issues in a contemporaneous way are very effective.

While Ontario has workplace guidelines in the Labour Standards Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act, “we don’t have an ADR resource like B.C. does to deal with these issues,” she says.

“I think we should,” Romero says. “It’s better to deal with a conflict when it’s small, rather than big.”

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