Workplace Investigations FAQs - Part Two

Workplace Investigation Process FAQs - Part Two

In Part One of our FAQs series, we started with the big picture and considered the importance of maintaining impartiality and confidentiality during the investigation.

Here in Part Two, we turn to some of the practicalities of conducting an investigation in a busy workplace.

Q: How do we keep operations running efficiently during an investigation?

Another benefit of the Confidentiality Rule is that it fosters an attitude of “Keep Calm and Carry On”.

There’s no question that a workplace investigation strains the people involved and, by extension, the operation. That alone warrants completion of the investigation as quickly as reasonably possible.

Depending on the allegations, it may be inappropriate for the parties to continue working side-by-side during the investigation. Even if the chance of further misconduct is slim, tensions still run high. The Confidentiality Rule bars parties from discussing the investigation or allegations among themselves. This can get pretty awkward if the parties must interact with each other every day.

The solution is to remove the opportunity. Consider reassigning the respondent during the investigation, or adjusting reporting relationships if possible. Although there are exceptions, it’s generally not a good idea to reassign complainants. This could be construed as retaliation or punishment for making a complaint.

Where the allegations are extremely serious or if criminal charges are laid, you may consider a paid administrative leave or suspension for the respondent pending completion of the investigation. Employers must be careful about a leave or suspension - it could lead to a grievance, labour standards complaint or constructive dismissal claim. Before deciding, you should get legal advice (we can help).

Q: What are the logistics of a workplace investigation?

Logistics can be tricky. It requires balancing the interests of the affected parties with the Employer’s need to keep the business running. 

It’s preferable to conduct interviews in a neutral, private location other than the worksite. Bringing an external investigator to a worksite may fuel gossip and speculation. A complainant or respondent may feel ostracized for attending lengthy closed-door sessions with a mysterious visitor to the workplace. Witnesses may find it difficult to relax and be candid in an interview at the worksite.

Employees are usually interviewed during their regularly-scheduled hours. Although this could cause some disruption to workflow and require some fill-ins, Employers usually prefer this over paying employees to attend interviews outside of their normal work hours.

I always work with Employers to balance the needs of the operation and the comfort-level of parties and witnesses. The right balance always depends on the circumstances.

Check back soon for the final installment of our FAQ series, where we will address the biggest question of them all: how to minimize the cost of an external investigation.

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