In my role as review counsel, I train others on how to write effective workplace investigation reports. When I review reports, much of what I focus on is readability: how is the report going to sound to the reader? Is it easy to read? Is the reader going to get confused by the report’s organization? I think about this mythical reader a lot; probably too much in fact, and I bet my colleagues are tired of hearing me go on about it.
In a recent webinar offered at Rubin Thomlinson, titled “Primer on Consent,” we enjoyed a highly informative discussion on consent in the context of sexual assault. Part of that presentation included reference to a trilogy of cases from the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) on the issue of sexual assault and s. 276 of the Criminal Code (“CC”).
I must admit that pre-COVID-19, I was wary to conduct investigations virtually. This had more to do with my own discomfort with technology and videoconference platforms than anything else. Now, more than six months into the pandemic, it is hard to deny that virtual investigations may be around for the long haul. Below are some of our observations regarding conducting investigations remotely.
The Ontario Court of Appeal recently considered this question in a case involving an appeal from a conviction of sexual assault. The decision is an important one for any workplace investigator faced with assessing someone’s credibility.
Alcohol and work events often don’t mix well. Some know this from personal experience. Others, like us, are called upon to investigate allegations arising from work events at which alcohol and “good times” were flowing freely. It will come as no surprise that, as workplace investigators, the issue of alcohol consumption and intoxication pops up with some frequency in our work.
As workplace investigators in 2020, we routinely deal with issues in investigations that relate to technology, especially social media applications. In any given investigation, some portion of the alleged bullying might have taken place over Facebook, or Slack messages might provide critical evidence of sexual harassment.
Despite this opening sentence in her decision, Tribunal Chair Juricevic found that the complainant’s allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination were not substantiated.
As a workplace investigator, I am sensitive to the fact that conversations around #MeToo in the workplace have been an evolution; people are not always sure about “where the line is” when assessing whether conduct in the workplace amounts to sexual harassment. The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal recently chimed into this discussion. The decision¹ provides a detailed refresher on the legal test for claims of sexual harassment and draws a line in the sand regarding what is (or is not) considered sexual harassment.
Law enforcement agencies, such as police services, correctional institutions and the RCMP, are distinguishable workplaces with a paramilitary culture and an emphasis on solidarity with one another. These attributes can be important in the execution of duties, given the inherent dangers involved in working at such organizations.
However, problems manifest when the notion of solidarity evolves into an unwillingness to report the misconduct of one’s colleagues. This unwillingness, often referred to as the “code of silence”, the “blue wall” or the “thin blue line”, is often rooted in a fear of backlash in the workplace.