This is the first in a series of blogs that I will be writing on workplace whistleblowing. There is not a lot of practical information available on the topic and I want to help shed some light on how employers can be better prepared to deal with employees who blow the whistle.
I am somewhat of an anomaly in that I have a lot of hands-on experience with this subject matter. I have managed whistleblowing programs, conducted intake interviews with whistleblowers and investigated alleged wrongdoing disclosed by whistleblowers.
For this blog, I thought that a good place to start would be to provide general information about workplace whistleblowing given that it is a topic that is foreign to many.
When conducting interviews as a workplace investigator, I begin each interview by explaining my role in the investigation process to the interviewee. As an external investigator, I ensure that interviewees are aware that my role is to be neutral. In the past, I have been asked whether I could be truly neutral. I have had interviewees express to me their reservations about how I would be assessing the information they provide, for if a client retains our firm to investigate a complaint, would I not then just be serving the client’s interest? In this blog post, I answer these and other questions I have been asked in relation to an investigator’s neutrality.
Workplace investigators all do the same thing when they conduct an investigation: they tell participants to keep the investigation and its subject-matter confidential. This instruction helps protect participants’ privacy and maintain the integrity of their evidence. But what happens to this confidentiality requirement when the investigation is over? How does an employer respond when a participant in an investigation says that they want to tell their story, in their own words, to an audience beyond the painstakingly neutral and objective investigator?
In our digital era, investigators must be increasingly technologically savvy. Evidence can take on many forms, including texts, emails and social media accounts. Many employers provide company-issued phones, which, more often than not, happen to be iPhones that are controlled by Apple IDs and rely on virtual storage. As the workplace is further digitized, and as more offices become mobile or virtual, investigations will naturally be dealing with evidence that is stored virtually on a cloud. As the decision District of Houston v. Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 2086 (“District of Houston”) illustrates, sometimes when evidence is stored virtually, it is not so easy to access.