Workplace Investigations and Procedural Fairness

Workplace Investigation

When a workplace investigation takes place, employers are responsible for ensuring that the investigation is conducted thoroughly and in keeping with the requirements of procedural fairness. Although procedural fairness is a requirement of administrative decision making, its principles can help inform what is considered “fair” in workplace investigations. If employers do not conduct fair investigations, they can face serious penalties. Workplace investigations and procedural fairness can be difficult to navigate when running a business, which is why more employers are opting for professional consulting assistance.

Bridge Legal & HR Solutions works alongside Ontario businesses to ensure compliance in workplace investigations. Our team of dedicated attorneys have spent decades providing businesses with legal advice and consulting to serve their individual needs, including in the areas of workplace investigations and procedural fairness. If you are a business owner, it is essential to protect your company from expensive and time-consuming lawsuits that may result from a failure to uphold procedural fairness. Consider contacting Bridge Legal & HR Solutions at 647-794-5442 for an initial consultation today.

What Is Procedural Fairness?

Workplace investigations and an understanding of procedural fairness go hand in hand, primarily because fairness is a fundamental aspect of all investigations. Procedural fairness establishes legitimacy and ensures that parties to an investigation feel that it was handled justly. Although procedural fairness is a cornerstone of the legal system, it is not always easy to understand the implications of this legal standard.

Essentially, this standard is used to help ensure that the workplace investigation process is equitable. Elements of procedural fairness include making decisions objectively and without bias, and giving both parties the chance to be heard.

Guiding Principles for Procedural Fairness

While no investigative process is entirely perfect, employers are required to meet certain obligations when they conduct workplace investigations. These obligations help ensure that the investigation is conducted fairly, protecting all parties involved.

Procedural fairness is a legal standard developed by the common law, rather than by legislation. The following are important principles of procedural fairness to keep in mind when conducting a workplace investigation:

  • Requirement of notice: Both parties must be notified that an investigation is taking place, and the Respondent must be notified of the allegations against them.  
  • Requirement of being heard: The parties must be given a fair opportunity to provide their position to the investigator, and to respond to information provided by the other side, and by witnesses.  Moreover, the investigator is required to genuinely consider the information that has been provided by all parties when making a decision.
  • Requirement of objectivity: It is necessary for the investigator to act impartially and without bias. 
  • Requirement of confidentiality: All information about the complaint should not be disclosed unless the disclosure is essential to protect employees or is necessary to thoroughly investigate the complaint or take corrective action.

While these requirements set the foundation for procedural fairness, understanding how procedural fairness plays out in practice is not always straightforward. The team of experienced attorneys at Bridge Legal & HR Solutions work with employers to ensure a full and total understanding of workplace investigations and procedural fairness in Ontario.

What Happens if Employers Do Not Uphold Procedural Fairness?

In some cases, employers may unintentionally fail to uphold all the obligations of procedural fairness standards. If this occurs, employers leave themselves vulnerable to legal consequences. Failing to abide by the requirements of procedural fairness can sometimes  result in an award of damages to the individual who has not been treated fairly.

For example, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice considered this question in Disotell v. Kraft Canada Inc, in which an Ontario employer was sued by an employee for not conducting a fair and serious investigation into a claim of harassment. In this case, the Plaintiff submitted a complaint to his employer, stating that four coworkers were harassing him based on his sexual orientation. The employer, Kraft, conducted an investigation but failed to interview any of the alleged harassers or any other employees who had been working with the Plaintiff during the time of the alleged harassment. The Plaintiff argued that their employer’s failure to conduct a fair and thorough investigation constituted constructive dismissal.

Ultimately, the court sided with the Plaintiff, concluding that because the employer failed to interview all relevant parties, the employer did not conduct a serious investigation, thereby violating Ontario law. Consequently, the Court awarded the Plaintiff damages and upheld his claim for constructive dismissal.

If the employer fails to conduct a fair and through investigation, there may be grounds for legal action that are separate and apart from the incidents underlying the original complaint. A knowledgeable attorney at Bridge Legal & HR Solutions can help you conduct fair workplace investigations, thus avoiding any potential legal consequences. 

Navigate Workplace Investigations and Procedural Fairness with the Help of Bridge Legal & HR Solutions

Conducting a workplace investigation can be stressful and time-consuming, and legal requirements and responsibilities can be hard to navigate. Many business owners are exceedingly busy and may find it difficult to learn all the necessary protocols before they must conduct a workplace investigation. For this reason, we have centered our practice around supporting businesses and organizations across Ontario. Our flexible services are available regardless of your budget, the size of your business, or the industry that your business operates in. Above all, we seek to help businesses thrive and succeed.  

At Bridge Legal & HR Solutions, we work with you to ensure that all workplace investigation best practices are met, saving you time and money in the long-term. By tailoring our services to match your business strategy, we can deliver solutions that work for your company. If you need help with a workplace investigation or advice from an experienced legal consultant, consider contacting our Toronto office at 647-794-5442 today.

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