HR Proactive Inc. leads the way in investigating Workplace Harassment Complaints in Canada.
Our human rights consultants are frequently retained to conduct workplace investigations in Ontario, as well as the rest of the country, when there is a need for a skilled and experienced neutral third-party to respond and assess a human rights complaint. Our investigations can be carried out virtually with witness interviews arranged using video conferencing (Zoom, Skype) or over the phone. In-person interviews can be coordinated following COVID-19 protocols and guidelines.
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We conduct workplace investigations, workplace culture reviews and audits, dealing with:
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At the conclusion of our investigations, our clients are provided with a comprehensive and detailed written report which includes our findings of fact and an analysis of the evidence to determine, on the balance of probabilities, if the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Human Rights Code and/or Company Policy have been breached. Recommendations are also provided if requested.
Managing the Workplace During a Workplace Harassment Investigation
Employers are required by law to protect workers from the hazard of workplace harassment, including sexual harassment. In most jurisdictions, including Ontario, part of the required protection is an anti-harassment policy and program that includes a process to investigate complaints.
Running a business while conducting a workplace harassment investigation is challenging. Worker morale and productivity can be affected. The following tips for managing the workplace are based on HR Proactive's twenty plus years of investigation experience, relevant legislation and case law.
Why? First of all, it is a requirement of the Occupational Health and Safety Act to ensure confidentiality and the protection of personal information. Privacy, primarily meaning not identifying parties (Complainant, Respondent and Witnesses), should be maintained. Of course, some identifying information must be shared for the purposes of the investigation, but the parties and witnesses should be advised that otherwise discussing the complaint or identifying individuals could be subject to discipline. Not only can gossiping be damaging to the parties and to worker interactions in general, it can affect the integrity of the investigation. Note too, that reprisal action against the Complainant and Witnesses for participation in the investigation process is contrary to law.
Protect Workers from Workplace Hazards
This is a fundamental requirement in occupational health and safety law. Harassment is a workplace hazard. Careful consideration must be given to the seriousness of the allegations. Are the Complainant and/or other workers vulnerable to further harassment? In most cases, it is wise to separate the Complainant and Respondent in the workplace. Care must be taken not to punish the alleged victim by unnecessarily removing them from their usual assignment or by assigning them to lesser work. Where there is significant risk, the Respondent should be removed from the workplace. Because the allegations are not proven at this point, paid leave is appropriate.
Act Promptly, Proceed Fairly
Delays in an investigation affect the performance of the workplace and cause costs to rise, often including the expense of putting the Respondent off work on paid leave.
Both parties should be informed regarding the process. The Respondent should be provided with an opportunity to:
The outcome of the investigation should be shared with both parties and time allowed for comment before a decision is made on any final action (e.g. discipline). Again, care must be taken to maintain confidentiality (Witnesses should not be identified). HR Proactive considers it a best practice to provide the parties with a copy of the investigation report on a review-only basis without allowing the report to be copied or to leave the workplace.
The sooner the investigation process comes to a conclusion, the sooner the parties and therefore the workplace can get back to normal operations.
Have Support Available
Does your workplace have an Employee Assistance Program? Any party or witness expressing stress or experiencing health issues related to the investigation should be advised of the availability of assistance. Parties and Witnesses should be allowed to have representation (e.g. for union members) or a supporter during any stage of the investigation process. Having a clear policy and process related to investigating harassment as well as following and explaining it to the participants as required at every stage will help to ease the tension for all.
Call HR Proactive Inc. for more information about our neutral third-party, Canada-wide workplace investigation services at 1.888.552.1155.
HR Proactive also provides remedial or corrective individualized training which may be required as a result of an internal issue, situation or harassment investigation. Ask us about our customized One-on-One Sensitivity training programs; or Leadership Coaching Services