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Serious insight for serious situations.

Serious insight for serious situations.

Hindsight for 2020: Reflecting on the past decade to help us navigate the next

2020 is around the corner.  Although I find this somewhat alarming and difficult to digest, I suppose the warning signs were fairly obvious.  And I’m not necessarily talking about self-driving cars and intuitive robots per se; just the inevitable passage of time.  As one decade ends and another one is due to commence,  it strikes me as an opportune moment for reflection: a time to look at what we have come to know about issues of harassment in the workplace and consider what insight the lessons of the last decade offer for the future of workplace investigations in 2020. 

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See something, (don’t) say something: New research on witnessing workplace harassment

Time and again we see a familiar story play out in the media and in our work as workplace investigators: troubling behaviour on the part of one or more employees that many other employees witnessed, but never reported to anyone. This is one of the most vexing problems those of us who care about addressing and preventing workplace harassment and discrimination face: why do so many people see or hear about inappropriate behaviour in the workplace and remain silent? And how can we motivate these witnesses – who we refer to as bystanders – to speak up?

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All I want for Christmas… is a harassment-free office holiday party

There’s a crispness in the air that reminds me that winter is just around the corner. At the risk of being “that person,” I love this season; sitting by a crackling fire with my family and a cup of tea is what I consider perfection. Like me, some human resources departments are also gearing up for their end-of-year gatherings – apparently, office holiday parties are back in style.

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“I don’t recall”: Addressing the “code of silence” in law enforcement investigations

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.

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Trauma and credibility: The Ontario divisional court reviews a “he said, she said” case of sexual harassment

In 2018, the Ontario human rights tribunal case A.B. v Joe Singer Shoes Limited received a lot of attention because of its high damages award – $200,000 for the Applicant’s pain and suffering from of over 20 years of sexual harassment by her boss, Mr. Singer. But when Mr. Singer sought judicial review of this decision, it was not the quantum of the damages that was at issue; it was the Vice-Chair’s assessment of the parties’ credibility. Since this was a “he said, she said” case – there were no direct witnesses to Mr. Singer’s conduct – the Vice-Chair determined that Mr. Singer had engaged in sexual harassment, even though he denied doing so, because she believed the Applicant (Ms. B.) and did not believe Mr. Singer.

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The dilemma of the anonymous complaint – Part 2

In a previous blog, we discussed the tricky issue of anonymous complaints. We set out steps that employers can take to prepare themselves for the inevitable receipt of one, and best practices in communicating with anonymous complainants. In this blog, we do a deeper dive into how to go about investigating such a complaint.

In our experience, there is no one-size fits all approach to investigating anonymous complaints. Often-times the best approach will be one that is tailored to the contents of the complaint so be sure to read and re-read your complaint carefully before deciding on how to proceed.

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Fine line between deception & honesty – Understanding a reluctant party

In my previous life, before becoming an investigator, I lived in the world of private legal practice, both in the Caribbean and in Ontario, Canada. In that role, I had the opportunity of interacting with persons of diverse social, cultural and racial backgrounds, persons of varying personality types and persons with experiences that had shaped their life or the way they interacted with others. There were many occasions where the persons with whom I interacted, whether as their advocate or as opposing counsel, were seemingly not forthcoming with the information that I needed to illicit. The typical or traditional thinking is that they are not forthcoming because they are either lying or have something to hide.

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Do I have to tell the respondent everything?

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.

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