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.
Being the daughter of a retired health care provider, I observed from an early age the balancing act of providing patient-centred care while wanting to do one’s best in a workplace that can be emotionally charged, fast-paced and ever-changing (I know that these descriptors not only apply to working in health care generally, but could apply to an employee’s experience in just one shift).
When we ask complainants in a workplace investigation whether there were any witnesses to the events that form the basis of their allegations, it is not uncommon to hear, “Well no, but I told my partner/best friend/colleague everything.” This is especially true in cases of sexual harassment or assault, where the events in question often take place in private, without witnesses present.
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.