Although they can be difficult for all parties involved, workplace investigations are, in some situations, a legal requirement. There is no place for discrimination, harassment, bullying, or sexual harassment in a workplace setting. These things can lead to and create unsafe or toxic working conditions and may result in an investigation.
What is a Workplace Investigation?
A workplace investigation occurs when an employer investigates internally or hires a third-party investigator to look into an incident that happened at a place of business with the goal of deciphering the facts of what transpired and what steps if any, should be taken after the investigation has concluded.
Typically, investigations are initiated after an employee has come forward with a complaint regarding some form of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. In many cases, but not limited to, these complaints involve harassment, sexual harassment or discrimination.
Sometimes, it will be an employer who has become suspicious that an employee is engaging in misconduct and wants more information before determining if disciplinary action is required. No matter the circumstances, a workplace investigation must be conducted quickly and done correctly.
How Should a Workplace Investigation be Conducted?
Workplace investigations can vary based on the dynamics of the situation, such as the number of people involved and other factors. But in general, the investigator’s role includes:
- Setting out the expectations of confidentiality to all parties.
- Providing the respondent with the specifics regarding the allegation(s).
- Interviewing the complainant, respondent, and witnesses (if any).
- Reviewing all related documentation, such as emails, files, messages, etc.
- Preparing a written investigation report with findings of all the facts.
It’s important to note that in some instances, a Ministry of Labour Inspector may order an employee to hire an impartial investigator to conduct the investigation. This investigation is conducted at the expense of the employer, and the employer has a right to receive a full, written report from the investigator.
Whether the investigation is done by a company’s HR representative or a third-party investigator, the investigator must remain open minded and unbiased throughout the proceedings. The task of the investigator is to collect all related evidence fairly and impartially and present the facts with their conclusion.
Workplace Investigations Are Required Under the OHSA
Besides helping to provide a safe work environment and discouraging negative behaviour, workplace investigations are the law. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers are required to have policies in place for complaints to be filed and investigated. Taking effect on September 8, 2016, Bill 132 goes even further requiring all employers to investigate any incident or harassment even if a complaint hasn’t been filed.
At HR Enable, we work directly with our clients to help conduct workplace investigations to ensure they are done lawfully and with the best possible outcome for all involved parties.