Workplace Harassment Investigations: What Employers Need to Know

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Canadian employers have an obligation to provide a safe and respectful work environment that is free from discrimination and any form of harassment. The law requires employers to take reasonable steps to address any allegations of workplace harassment effectively. Given the limited number of choices locally, various decisions involving employers who allegedly failed in such obligations are particularly important for comprehending the standards that courts and tribunals expect of employers and establishing the best practices.

It is essential to mention that conflicts between workers and misconduct by employers is a fact of modern employment life in various work environments. The law requires employers to conduct investigations into various complaints and instances of workplace violence or harassment. Employees who get dismissed wrongly or suffer similar harsh treatment should consult with a wrongful dismissal lawyer Toronto. For more information – visit this website.

For example, the Human Rights Code and Occupational Health & Safety Act are applicable governing legislation requiring employers to investigate and address instances of workplace violence and harassment appropriately in Ontario. The existence of these laws does not mean employees should violate their employer’s terms of employment. You are legally required to follow workplace policies as long as they do not violate the provincial and federal legislation regarding employment. 

In most cases, employers are the recipients of workplace violence or harassment allegations and complaints. At times, it may be tempting for the employer to mediate easy solutions and bring closure to harassment-related incidences within the organization. This is often done in an attempt to get on with the business and avoid a bad reputation. However, this isn’t a good approach to address workplace violence, harassment, and other forms of work environment toxicity. 

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Keep in mind that you (the employer) have statutory legal obligations that require timely and objective investigations into allegations of violence and harassment. In addition, you must gather off the facts regarding any instance of violence or harassment in the workplace so that you can respond in a reflective manner that your workforce will see as thorough and fair. Just think about it; there’s no way an employer should ignore a case where a senior employee physically assaults a junior worker.

Every employer wants to retain great talent, maintain an excellent internal brand reputation, foster morale among employees, and maintain an outstanding external brand reputation. An effective way to achieve this is to consistently address all allegations of workplace harassment or violence. You can find facts and address such issues by interviewing your employees, analyzing the information you collect, and sometimes consulting with the experts.

The process of investigating allegations of workplace violence and harassment is complex for some employers and requires some skills. The employer’s investigations would often start with receiving a written complaint from a complainant (the employee who may have been harassed or assaulted). 

Next, the employer may interview the complainant to gain a deeper understanding of what happened. He or she can also interview the people complained against to get their side of the story. Other people who may be interviewed in the process include persons identified by the complainant of the respondent. It is essential to mention that employees must be sincere when filing complaints regarding workplace harassment and other forms of abuse or violence.  

As an employer, you must ensure that you have all the relevant documents before you start investigating allegations of workplace harassment and violence. Once you have interviewed the right people or entities, it is essential to follow up with other interviews whenever necessary. For example, you may want to talk to a junior employee and ask specific questions that could help gather more information about certain allegations. 

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Review all the pieces of evidence provided and make findings of credibility and facts. Based on the information provided, decide if the accused’s conduct violates your organization’s policies or the law. If so, it is important that you take the right action. Remember, nearly everyone in your organization will be paying attention to how you address such workplace issues. Besides, you must abide by the law and implement it effectively. 

In determining whether to conduct the investigation within your organization or through an experienced external investigator, it is important that you realistically consider your availability and expertise. Find out whether internal perception and objectivity of other workers will be a problem. Other issues that you must consider include the timing of the investigation and the costs involved.

In any event, you must ensure that your investigation team consists of at least two people for each interview. Having many people conducting the investigation could create an impression of intimidation. This can make it challenging for the interviewees to share information with the interviewer. On the other hand, having one person conduct the investigation may not allow for proper note-taking and consultations, particularly when interpreting information. This might compromise the overall effectiveness of the interview and investigation.

Workplace investigations must follow a well-designed process that is fair. These investigations should be seen to credibly address the specific issue at hand. They will also be an essential foundation of response to any possible future litigation. Remember, there may be cases of harassment that may end up in court. Having a properly-designed workplace investigation process could be helpful in such cases. 

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It is essential to mention that the workplace investigation laws have been evolving in the past several decades and continue to develop and progress in Canada. Currently, it is widely accepted that human rights jurisprudence has established an employer obligation to effectively investigate all instances and allegations of discrimination and harassment based on prohibited grounds. Employers who don’t take this obligation seriously are likely to face harsh consequences. 

For example, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario awarded damages against employers for failure to properly investigate and address allegations regarding workplace harassment and violence. Note that these are monetary damages, and that means an extra expense for your organization. This is not the only way your organization will suffer a blow. Think about your reputation. Do you want to be an employer who cannot ensure a safe work environment.

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