One of the questions we are often asked is how much information should be disclosed to a respondent during an investigation. Some feel that respondents are more likely to provide honest and candid information if they are taken by surprise as opposed to having advance notice of the allegations and supporting evidence. The fear is that with the information, a respondent may have more time to concoct a story in response to the allegations and evidence. The problem with this tactic is that it is premised on an underlying assumption that the respondent has something to hide and is therefore “guilty” of the allegations. Such an approach is not impartial. It also risks being found to be procedurally unfair.
A few weeks ago, I was part of a panel on TVO. The discussion centred on what had changed in the two years since the #Me Too Movement had begun. Much to my surprise, I seemed to be the sole voice on the panel who thought that the needle on the sexual harassment dial had moved at all.
At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, let me explain why I believe things have changed. I do so from the vantage point of someone who leads a large team of lawyers, lawyers who investigate complaints of sexual harassment across the country, in English and in French, and in every conceivable type of workplace.
I recently did several investigations which involved a bit of creativity when choosing the interview location. The situations made me think of how an interview space can affect a participant’s experience and perhaps the quality of evidence that is elicited during that meeting. Below, I offer some thoughts to consider when choosing an interview space.
The interview is an opportunity for the investigator to neutrally gather evidence. It is also an opportunity for the interviewee to talk about their understanding and observations of the situation at hand. The interview is often one of the key, if not the main, sources of information that an investigator will have.
You hear things. A whisper here and there. An overheard comment about a colleague crossing the line with another colleague. Repeatedly. Or maybe it’s more than a whisper. Maybe it’s more of a resounding chorus. And the voices are all offering alarmingly similar and compelling descriptions of a colleague engaging in a pattern of behaviour that – according to multiple reports – is decidedly unwelcome. The information may even be set out in writing in a formal letter of complaint. But the author of the letter has chosen to remain anonymous.
C’est une question que l’on nous pose souvent pendant notre formation sur les techniques de base en matière d’enquêtes au travail. Devons-nous vraiment tout dévoiler avant l’entrevue avec la partie intimée? Certains participants pensent que la partie intimée fournira des informations plus spontanées et candides s’il y a un élément de surprise pendant l’entrevue. Si la partie intimée reçoit une information détaillée, elle aura ainsi plus de temps pour inventer une histoire qui se conforme aux allégations et aux éléments de preuve. Cette tactique, toutefois, se fond sur une supposition que l’intimé cache quelque chose et est donc « coupable » de ce dont il est accusé. Cette approche n’est pas impartiale et peut mener à une conclusion que la partie intimée a été privée de son droit à l’équité procédurale.
When I do respectful workplace training, one of the responses I often hear is, “Does this mean I can’t compliment my co-worker’s hair/clothes/eyes/jewelry?” My answer is always an annoyingly lawyerly one: “It depends.”
A comment that pertains to a colleague’s appearance has the potential to create a welcome personal connection. It can also cause harm. A set of recent decisions from the British Columbia Health Professions Review Board (the “Board”) provides some insight on when comments on a person’s appearance are inappropriate.
Overt racial discrimination, such as a racial slur or derogatory comment, can be easy to spot. However, the difficulty for investigators arises where an allegation of race-based discrimination seemingly does not relate to race at all. As discussed further in this post, such forms of discrimination (often dubbed “microaggressions”) are often manifested through subtle, unintentional behaviours that perpetuate stereotypes about marginalized groups.
The question then arises: how can allegations of subtle racial discrimination be investigated, let alone proven, where there is no obvious link to race? In the case study below, we outline considerations for investigators through the following scenario.
Employers sometimes ask us for guidance on how to share the results of a workplace investigation with the parties. It’s not difficult to imagine why.
All parties to an investigation—so long as they are employees of the employer—are entitled to learn the results of the investigation, as noted in the Ministry of Labour’s Code of Practice.
Yet letting a Complainant know that his harassment complaint was not substantiated, or telling a Respondent that he engaged in bullying, is difficult information to deliver. Information like this can be physically and emotionally overwhelming for the parties to hear, and both may experience a variety of emotions in response.