Man in the Middle: Alan Levy Makes Peace when Whistleblowing Turns Ugly

By Andrea Helm and Mark Worth

Photo credit: Colin Corneau, Brandon Sun

Photo credit: Colin Corneau, Brandon Sun

Blowing the whistle on corporate wrongdoing often leads to employee firings, lawsuits, and a lot of bad blood between management and labor. Arbitrator Alan Levy has seen it all in his almost 30 years of negotiating mediation and arbitration settlements between worker and boss. 

Levy’s experience in negotiating labor union collective bargaining agreements helped pave his path to arbitrator and mediator. “I changed careers in 2004 and became an academic,” he says, “and the area I selected was whistleblowing. Because Canada’s whistleblowing legislation is not as strong as it is in the United States, there was a real niche for people needing that kind of service in Canada.”

A retired professor of business administration at Brandon University in Manitoba, Levy has decades of experience in labor relations, employment rights, and whistleblowing. His many positions have included lecturer at the University of Toronto, labor relations manager at Toronto General Hospital, and member of the Canada Industrial Relations Board. He is a member of the International Arbitration Association on International Law and a recipient of the Morley Gunderson Award in recognition of his ability to forge peace among warring factions.

“The parties I work with are often furiously angry with one another – it’s more like family divorce mediation than workplace mediation. In order to be willing to compromise, one has to be ‘ripe like a banana’ – which means psychologically willing to accept some form of resolution other than what you currently have,” he said. Levy helps ripen the banana.

“The employee often feels they have no other alternative to reach out to some form of media and say, ‘you know that employer over there, they’re polluting, there’s embezzlement,’ ” Levy said. “The employee shouldn’t be punished for that. Often in mediation, I have to make that clear – that the whistleblower should not be punished.”

“Most employers don’t see it that way,” he said, “but if the employee didn’t take that risk and come forward, the problem would continue. No one wants to work for an employer that condones dishonesty. The employer’s ears and their attorney’s ears tend to perk up, and they say, ‘well, what can we do about it?’ As soon as they ask that question, I know they are ready to negotiate. If the parties are willing to come in with an open mind, then there’s always a possibility of resolution.”

Levy says he’s seen an increase in whistleblower cases but says that “people don’t come forward enough because the laws aren’t strong enough to protect them. People say, ‘I’m not willing to sacrifice my job or my income.’ Yet when I ask the ones that do come forward, ‘why are you doing this?,’ they say, ‘I love this place, this place is special, I’ve worked here 10 years, and I’m not going to let anyone come in and ruin it.’ I’ve had people tell me, ‘You do God’s work!’ That gives me more fulfillment than any amount of money or prestige.”

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