When do I need a Workplace Investigator?

As promised, here is Part 2 of our Help for Employers series. In Part 1, "An employee says he's being harassed - now what?" I described a scenario many employers face when confronted with employee complaints in the workplace.

I offered ways to handle employee claims of harassment that could lead to liability and reputation loss to your organization. Straight-forward suggestions, from initial assessment to formal investigation, guide employers on compliance with Nova Scotia's Human Rights Act and The Human Rights Act.

Below is relief from Part 1's cliffhanger: "...there are times when conducting an investigation in-house is a bad idea."

When you should consider hiring an external workplace investigator

  • Allegations are made against senior management. A Human Resources specialist should not investigate her boss – it would be perceived as a conflict of interest;
  • Workplace complaints could lead to formal litigation, including a human rights complaint, grievance or wrongful dismissal action. Retaining a lawyer to investigate provides confidence of procedural fairness and a reasoned assessment of evidence and witness credibility;
  • Allegations could go public and expose the employer to reputational harm – think Jian Ghomeshi and the CBC. Using an external investigator sends the message that the employer takes the workplace complaint seriously and is open to organizational change if needed;
  • The workplace is small, family-run, or lacks a neutral, independent employee to conduct the investigation. Engaging an external workplace investigator avoids the appearance of bias; or
  • There are several complaints or the issues are complex. Using an external investigator provides sufficient time to investigate promptly and thoroughly and allows you to continue running your business. If you’ve put the respondent on paid administrative leave during the investigation, a timely investigation is critical.
  • These are just a few reasons why hiring an external workplace investigator makes sense. Many situations demand hiring an external investigator to ensure a prompt, neutral, thorough and fair workplace investigation.

If you’re an employer with a workplace complaint and you’re not sure of your next step, give me a call and we’ll figure it out.

Krista K. Smith is a lawyer with Barteaux Durnford Employment and Labour Lawyers. Since completing a Workplace Investigations Certificate Program through the Human Resources Professionals Association, she has been conducting external workplace investigations for employers in Atlantic Canada.