Smiths Falls council approves policy to protect staff

Posted on: October 3, 2017

Chris Must

Smiths Falls councillors voted Oct. 2 to adopt a policy dealing with “unreasonable customer behaviour.”

The new policy, which councillors have stated is not intended to discourage anyone from bringing questions or concerns to town hall, is intended to “guide staff to identify situations that meet the criteria of vexatious, frivolous and/or unreasonably persistent behaviour.”

It provides for a number of potential remedies, including banning an individual from town buildings without an appointment.

The draft policy was prepared by Director of Corporate Services/Clerk Kerry Costello and originally presented to council’s Committee of the Whole on Sept. 11. Costello’s report on the policy explained that its aim is to “contribute to the overall intent of dealing with customers in ways which are consistent, fair and reasonable while acknowledging that there may be a need to shield staff from unreasonable behaviour.”

The policy was prepared at the request of Councillor Dawn Quinn, who at a previous meeting, heard a member of the public threatening to have a town staff person fired over an issue that was “so trivial it wasn’t even funny.”

Smiths Falls’ new policy was based on a similar bylaw put in place by the Town of Perth, and Smiths Falls staff consulted with Perth Chief Administrative Officer John deRosenroll in its preparation.

The introduction to the policy explains that it is not intended to deal with “generally difficult customers,” but only applies to unreasonable behaviour.

Examples of unreasonable behaviour covered by the policy include:

  • refusing to specify the grounds of a complaint, despite offers of assistance;
  • changing the basis of the complaint/request as the matter proceeds;
  • denying or changing statements made at an earlier stage;
  • covertly recording meetings and conversations;
  • submitting falsified documents;
  • making excessive demands on the time and resources of staff with lengthy phone calls, emails to numerous staff, or detailed letters every few days, and expecting immediate responses;
  • refusing to accept decisions; and
  • persistently approaching the town through different routes about the same issue.

The policy also specifies that hostile and abusive language, fixation on an individual staff member, and making unjustified complaints about staff are also considered unreasonable behaviour.

Employees who believe they are being confronted with unreasonable, frivolous or vexatious requests are asked to consult with the directors of their departments. All cases are to be considered on an individual basis.

The policy, which has been reviewed by the town’s legal counsel, allows for the application of restrictions, including placing limits on the number and duration of contacts with staff over a given time period, limiting the customer to one method of contact only, and requiring any personal contacts to take place in the presence of a witness. The policy also allows for a customer to be refused access to town buildings except by appointment.

Any restrictions that are put in place are to be reviewed after a certain of time.