How Long Should a Workplace Investigation Take?

Workplace Harassment

Employers in Ontario often receive complaints from employees alleging that violence, harassment, or discrimination occurred in the workplace. For employers to protect themselves from liability, it is vital to conduct a workplace investigation into such allegations so that corrective measures can be implemented. Workplace investigations can be time consuming and complex, and often the question arises: How long should a workplace investigation take? While some general information about the timeline for investigations can be provided, those anyone wanting a more in-depth answer to their workplace investigation questions should consider contacting the experienced workplace investigation lawyers at Bridge Legal & HR Solutions at (647) 794-5442.

Workplace Harassment Policy and Program

According to  Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, employers must have a policy in place that addresses workplace harassment in order to promote a respectful and dignified working environment. This is required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). The Policy should clearly define what is workplace harassment, and may also include specific examples, such as:

  • Jokes or comments that are intimidating or offensive
  • Sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Inappropriate staring
  • Circulating or displaying materials or photos that are offensive
  • Aggressive behavior like violence or bullying
  • Ridiculing or isolating a fellow employee based on gender identity

Employers in Ontario are also required to have a program for handling allegations of workplace harassment. The program should indicate:

  • That an employer will ensure that an investigation will be conducted into incidents or complaints of harassment in the workplace, that is appropriate in the circumstances
  • The specific manner in which a workplace harassment complaint will be investigated, including corrective actions and interim measures undertaken during the investigation
  • That information regarding complaints of workplace harassment will be kept confidential and not be disclosed unless essential to protect workers, to investigate the incident, or as otherwise required by law
  • That, during the investigation, the parties and witnesses are instructed not to discuss the investigation, incident, or complaint unless it is necessary to seek advice regarding their rights
  • That both parties are to be informed of the investigation results in writing, along with intended corrective action

Components of a Workplace Investigation

There are two basic parts of a workplace investigation: information gathering and formulating a report (including factual findings) to provide the employer.

Information Gathering

An external investigator will gather information in a way that is unbiased and thorough. Information may be gathered through interviews with the employee making the complaint (the complainant), the individual alleged to have engaged in the problematic behaviour (the respondent), and any relevant witnesses. In addition, relevant documents (such as emails or text messages) may be reviewed. During the information gathering stage, all those interviewed should be advised of the need for confidentiality.

Final Investigative Report

An external, third-party investigator will prepare a thorough, factual report that outlines all steps taken during a workplace investigation, and provides findings of fact for each allegation. In general, the investigative report should summarize the following:

  • The investigation mandate
  • The parties involved and their relationship to each other
  • The relevant Policy and/or legislation
  • The allegations under investigation
  • Findings of credibility
  • Factual findings
  • A finding of whether the Policy and/or legislation was breached
  • Recommendations (if included in the mandate)

The investigation report represents a record of both the process and the findings, and allows the employer to make an informed decision on what actions need to be taken to restore the workplace. In addition, should any related litigation arise in the future, the investigation report provides evidence that the employer took the matter seriously and responded appropriately.

How Much Time Is Involved in a Workplace Investigation?

How long should a workplace investigation take? Ontario’s Ministry of Labour suggests that investigations should be completed within 90 days, unless there are extenuating circumstances. In reality, the length of an investigation can vary widely. A workplace investigation may take a single day or several weeks, although most only take a few days. There are several factors that can impact the speed of an investigation, including:

  • the availability of the parties and witnesses
  • the number and complexity of the allegations
  • the number of witnesses to be interviewed
  • other concurrent processes, such as a police investigation

In general, workplace investigations should be completed as quickly as possible, while still ensuring that the investigation is fair and thorough.  The external investigator is responsible for providing the employer with a reasonable timeframe, as well as informing them of any time extension that may be necessary.

How to Ensure an Investigation is Done Efficiently

Some best practices for ensuring that an investigation is completed as quickly as possible are:

  • Make certain that the reporting procedure is straightforward and clearly outlined in the Policy, so that the complainant will report the incident quickly
  • Whenever possible, begin an investigation promptly after a complaint is made
  • Gather relevant evidence, such as surveillance footage, calendar entries and emails in a timely fashion
  • Interview witnesses promptly once they are identified, and be cognizant of any planned vacations that might interfere with interviews
  • Be prepared to review the investigation findings promptly once the report is completed, and to communicate the findings to the parties

How Bridge Legal & HR Solutions Can Help

Workplace investigations are quite common in Ontario and employers need to be prepared to response to complaints quickly. How long should a workplace investigation take? This is a common question. For an in-depth answer to this this question – and related questions – consider reaching out to Bridge Legal & HR Solutions at (647) 794-5442.

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