If you are conducting a workplace investigation pursuant to a complaint of prohibited discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code or an alleged violation of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, it is vital to follow recognized best practices for such investigations in order to establish trust among all parties. Employees who believe they may have been discriminated against must feel free to come forward without fear of mistreatment or retaliation, and anyone named in the complaint should have confidence that the investigation will be handled fairly and impartially. It is crucial for HR staff to remain up-to-date on the latest guidance regarding workplace investigation best practices that build trust to ensure these practices can be implemented seamlessly in the event of a complaint. If you are responsible for conducting workplace investigations, you may also consider requesting a confidential consultation with Bridge Legal & HR Solutions at (647) 794-5442 to help ensure your organization’s workplace investigation strategy meets industry and legal standards.
Respond Promptly to Allegations
It is essential that you promptly respond to any allegations of misconduct. Unnecessarily delaying the investigation can give the impression that the company does not take the matter seriously. Any appearance of laxity could ultimately damage your company’s reputation and standing in the community.
Employers should be prompt in investigating allegations of misconduct, as well as in administering any discipline that is called for under the circumstances.
Carry Out Investigations in a Fair and Objective Manner
It is pivotal that you carry out investigations in a fair and objective manner. Employers must be able to show that they had a valid process to handle such investigations and that they carried out their own established protocol. It is also important to implement workplace investigation best practices that build trust with the following participants:
- The complainant – The person who makes a workplace complaint that triggers an investigation should be treated in a fair and respectful manner. They should know that their complaint is being taken seriously and that you are taking appropriate action. The investigation process should be explained, and they should be informed of the organization’s policy against retaliation.
- The respondent – It can be difficult to establish trust with the respondent, but it is still a worthy objective. It is important for the respondent to trust you so that you can get to the bottom of the complaint. Outlining the steps of the investigative process may help you to reassure the accused that your organization will be conducting a thorough investigation and not taking arbitrary action.
- Witnesses – Witnesses should also understand the investigation process, that their information will be kept as confidential as possible, and that they will not be subjected to retaliation.
Make a Good Impression
An important part of the investigative process is to make a good impression on anyone that may be involved in it. The process of bringing a complaint forward can be an intimidating process. You can help to build trust from the outset by establishing a clear, consistent message that the investigation process will be all of the following:
Select a Neutral Investigator
Selecting a neutral investigator can go a long way toward creating a positive impression among all those involved with the investigation. The investigator should be detached from the incident and not have stakes in the outcome. Naming an impartial investigator who is prepared to follow a clear and fair process can help to establish the trustworthiness of the investigation as a whole.
Bridge Legal & HR Solutions can act as a neutral, external investigator or advise you on ways to ensure neutrality for internal investigations.
Participants in an investigation may feel more inclined to trust you when you can honestly tell them that what they say will be kept confidential to the extent possible. Confidentiality may help to reassure participants of their protection against negative consequences, such as:
- Damage to the complainant’s or respondent’s reputation
- Harm to witnesses (included reprisal attempts) if details about the investigation are leaked
- The destruction of evidence if the respondent finds out about the allegations before the investigation formally commences
- Potential liability to the company if it is believed that it did not respond properly to accusations or was negligent in disclosing confidential information
- An increased likelihood of retaliation
The investigative team will want to maintain confidentiality from the moment it receives a complaint.
In implementing workplace investigation best practices that build trust, it may be helpful for HR staff to bear in mind that while the particulars of an investigation must remain confidential, the processes of any investigation should be as transparent as possible. Respondents must be given sufficient information about the complaint to allow them a fair chance to respond. You should also provide both the respondent and complainant with clear information about the investigative process and what they can expect. Communicating these processes clearly as the investigation progresses can help to maintain all parties’ confidence in the fairness of the investigation and the reliability of its findings.
Document the Process
Documenting everything during the process may help the company avoid liability. Consider documenting the process throughout each phase, including details about:
- Important dates
- Relevant facts
- Relevant locations
- Key findings
- What factors were considered when making decisions
- Documents that were reviewed, such as emails or text messages
One of the most important practices for building trust in workplace investigations is consistency in communications. This includes consistency in the language the investigative team uses, consistency in the process the organization uses when it receives a \complaint, and consistency in who is notified in the event a complaint is received. Having clear policies for workplace investigations and communicating them promptly to all parties before, during, and after an investigation may help to reassure all involved that the organization’s established guidelines are being applied consistently and fairly.
Be sure that you manage expectations with the parties involved regarding how long the investigation might take and when decisions will be made. You may wish to establish a check-in process for communicating with the parties at regular intervals. This check-in process can even continue after the investigation, such as by checking if the parties need additional assistance or training to address workplace concerns.
Contact a Trusted Team for Help
If you are looking for workplace investigation best practices that build trust, consider contacting Bridge Legal & HR Solutions by calling (647) 794-5442. We can discuss our extensive experience in this arena and how we can help with your next workplace investigation.