The first thing to know about workplace investigations is that they are mandatory for a range of complaints, such as harassment, discrimination, violence, and fraud. The second thing to know is that an employer faces significant risk if the need for an investigation is ignored or the procedure conducted improperly.
The law governing workplace investigations has been evolving, setting out an employer’s legal responsibility to conduct such reviews. The obligation to investigate was expanded with 2009 amendments to the Ontario Health and Safety Act, cementing protections against workplace violence and harassment, which includes bullying. Changes include an employer requirement to have a policy in place that lays out how complaints are investigated.
“A comprehensive workplace investigation is one that is conducted promptly, impartially and viewed as a fact-finding mission, where all those involved are treated fairly and provided with ample opportunity to respond to questions and allegations,” writes Andrea Raso and Debbie Preston for Clark Wilson.
Best practices for workplace investigations include avoiding delays, proper documentation, ensuring procedural fairness, maintaining accurate records and confidentiality, gathering evidence, and obtaining the services of an experience and qualified investigator.
“Depending on the backgrounds and qualifications of any internal investigators, and the degree of sensitivity of the matter at hand, it may be a better idea to have an impartial external investigator conduct or assist in the investigation,” writes Brian Kreissl for Canadian HR Reporter.
“External investigators should probably be used when there’s any hint of conflict of interest, when disputes involve very senior individuals within the organization, when allegations are particularly serious, when disputes involve complicated legal, financial or technical issues, or when allegations relate to physical violence or serious criminal conduct.”
Ignoring Complaints Among the Riskier Moves for an Employer
Some of the more common mistakes employers make when it comes to workplace investigations include not developing policies and procedures to investigate complaints, ignoring complaints, and an absence of objectivity, writes Patti Perez for emtrain.
“What are some ways investigators fail to be objective? One is by reaching conclusions before even beginning the investigation. A common scenario involves a high-level executive who is accused of wrongdoing and an investigator who understands drastic steps (including discharge) will have an immediate negative impact on the business. In that scenario, there is a high likelihood that the entire investigation will be conducted in a manner that justifies a decision that has already been made—that the executive will not be harshly disciplined or fired under any circumstance.”
Workplace investigations are, as mentioned, mandatory when employers have a legal obligation to conduct them. They are complex processes requiring the services of skilled investigators, such as the team on hand at Investigative Solutions Network. Failing to conduct them properly can result in serious jeopardy for an employer. Contact us today to find out more.