If one or more employees or stakeholders make a claim that a company’s work environment is abusive or unsafe in some capacity, it may be time to engage in a workplace investigation. The investigation can be either internal or external, but it is important to be done by someone who has been trained in conducting workplace investigations. Potential steps in an investigation include the careful assessment of your business’s infrastructure and inner workings in response to the complaint that has been made. During the investigation, information will be gathered and analyzed in an effort to assess the claim’s validity and to help guide your steps forward. If you are in need of a workplace investigation, protecting the legal and financial interests of your business from the outset is paramount, and the dedicated Ontario employment lawyers at Bridge Legal & HR Solutions (647-794-5442) are well prepared to help with both.
Your Workplace Investigation Report
One of the primary outcomes of a workplace investigation is the final report. This report will outline the details unearthed by the investigation, including all evidence provided by parties and witnesses. Sometimes recommendations will also be summarized here, and this sets the tone for the possible options for the company and employees.
Both the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and the Government of Canada set the guidelines for safe and healthy work environments in Canada. If the investigation unearths evidence that the workplace is not healthy or safe, it is important to address these important issues. Depending on the circumstances, the information generated in a workplace investigation should align with actions taken from the findings. There should be parity between the findings of the investigation, and the recommendations that may be included in the report. How recommendations are put into practice can be finalized with input from the following:
- Your legal counsel, including your employment-based legal team
- Company co-leaders
- Compliance representatives
Each may have a slightly different perspective and finding balance – within the context or your unique business and its best interests – is key.
The complaint(s) that led to your workplace requiring an investigation were triggered by some event or circumstance, and this underlying concern will need to be addressed. If the allegation is ultimately found to be substantiated or if underlying activity that is deemed improper is uncovered, you will need to take swift action. It is up to you and your partners in management to determine your next steps. Having the professional legal guidance of the seasoned Ontario employment lawyers at Bridge Legal & HR Solutions on your side is an excellent place to learn all of your legal options.
Your workplace investigation likely contains critical and sensitive information, and much of it may be confidential. While you will need to share some of the investigation with the parties and potentially with relevant managers -doing so with purpose, foresight, and clarity is a must. Information relating to an investigation should only be shared on a “need to know” basis.
Protecting your company – to the best of your ability – from further legal proceedings is essential, which translates to proceeding with care. Legal advice from experienced workplace investigation lawyers can help to ensure that information related to a workplace investigation is shared appropriately.
When the Investigation Is Inconclusive
In rare circumstances, an investigator may not have sufficient information to make a finding on a balance of probabilities. In addition, in some cases there may be a sense that the investigation did not get to the heart of the problem. Consider the following scenarios:
- Due to a lack of evidence (for example potential witnesses who cannot be reached) there may not be enough evidence to come down on one side or the other.
- There may be clear signs that inappropriate behavior existed without any policy violations having taken place.
However, an allegation spawned an investigation, and if an investigation failed to resolve the matter, it must be considered whether there is another issue that needs to be addressed. Perhaps your workplace policies are ambiguous or do not take a clear enough stance on certain behaviors. Consulting with an employment lawyer can help you understand how to create better policies and processes to attempt to avoid any workplace claims in the future.
When Terminations Are Necessary
Most workplace investigations do not result in the termination of one of the parties. However, in some cases, terminations are an appropriate option. If the allegations are substantiated, you will need to consider the magnitude of the policy violation, and whether the parties can continue working together. A well-considered and properly conducted workplace investigation will help you make decisions that protect your business.
Attempt To Prevent Future Workplace Issues
Your employees are one of your most valuable assets, and your goal is to provide them with a comfortable work environment that fosters mutual respect and growth. A primary element of this is ensuring that your employees feel heard and are comfortable voicing their concerns – before the situation devolves to the point that they feel making a harassment complaint is their best option. By opening up the channels of communication between management and employees, you set the stage for addressing any issues that arise immediately. Making sure that you have clear and comprehensive human resource materials that cover a broad range of harassment or discrimination examples (as well as the consequences of engaging in harassing behaviour) can help employees understand what is expected of them in the workplace. When you let your employees know that they matter, and provide clear guidance regarding inappropriate activities, you create an environment that not only complies with federal and provincial laws but also protects all employees.
Rebuilding Morale Is Key
One of the key takeaways from a workplace investigation should be that your company needs to focus some attention on rebuilding workforce morale. Toward this end, there are a wide range of sources at your disposal, including:
- Programs and education that focus on prevention of workplace harassment
- Programs and education that focus on appropriate behaviours in the workplace
- Programs and education that focus on civility and workplace communication
Now is the time for the leaders in your organization to focus on rebuilding morale and making your workplace environment a healthy one.
An Experienced Ontario Employment Lawyer Can Help
If you are concerned about the consequences of a workplace investigation, it is time to reach out to the accomplished employment lawyers at Bridge Legal & HR Solutions. Our focus on HR and keen understanding of nuanced employment law leaves us uniquely well positioned to help. To learn more, please do not wait to contact or call us at 647-794-5442 today.