Sexual harassment by Aramark manager spotlights perils of contracting out

Recently, at Saint Mary’s Hospital in New Westminster, several food service workers directly employed by the facility were sexually harassed by the department manager.

In order to remedy the situation, the workers did all the right things. They confronted the manager, reported the incident to hospital management and participated in an investigation.

Hospital administrators responded, as one would expect — quickly, professionally and with compassion for the victims. The manager was asked to leave the worksite and evidence was seized. The affected workers were taken seriously, counselled, interviewed and generally supported.

Unfortunately, the hospital was not able to deal with the manager directly. That’s because the manager in question is not a hospital worker but rather an employee of Aramark Canada, the multi-national corporation that holds the contract for the management of food services at Saint Mary’s.

SMH administrators have no jurisdiction over Aramark employees. And therein lies one of the biggest problems with private contractors — they, not health facility managers, direct their employees, and that includes discipline.

Sexual harassment is a serious occupational health and safety issue. It needs to be addressed appropriately and in a timely manner. Senior managers must ensure that all workers throughout an organization, and in particular victimized staff, know that the situation has been satisfactorily resolved.

These matters are not entirely up to Saint Mary’s because, although Aramark has told hospital administrators that the manager will not be returning to the facility, the company is under no obligation to tell SMH how it’s handled the situation.

And consider this — Aramark has other contracts, some with other health facilities. There’s nothing to prevent the company from putting another group of workers at risk by re-deploying that manager to a different worksite.