My first experience with a workplace investigation was vicariously first-hand, when a close friend of mine was named as a respondent and I became their de facto support person. The investigation was ongoing for three months. During that time, my friend ate, slept, and breathed that investigation.
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.
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.
Last week, our colleague Dana Campbell wrote a terrific blog entitled “Four Tips for Conducting Workplace Investigations Amidst the COVID-19 Crisis.” It contained some excellent advice including the use of technology to replace face-to-face interviews that are part of our investigation process.
We have all had a chance to put Dana’s advice into use this week as we are all investigating and working remotely. For the most part, this way of working has been successful. However, we have had some unanticipated mishaps, which we share with you below. And, in the spirit of working in new ways, this is the first RT blog written collaboratively, so you will hear the voices of different members of our team.
It goes without saying that the entire world is currently treading in unchartered waters. The COVID-19 crisis is something that this world has not seen or experienced in many generations, if ever! All industries, businesses and sectors are assessing how to carry on with “business as usual” when the circumstances are anything but “business as usual.” In the wold of workplace investigations, the same questions are being asked.
Ordinarily, a solid workplace investigation rests on four pillars; namely – fairness, thoroughness, timeliness and confidentiality¹. If not handled appropriately, the COVID – 19 crisis has the potential to rock that foundation in two ways – it may impact the fairness and timeliness of an investigation.
Did you see the Dolly Parton Challenge meme that went viral in January 2020?
Initiated by American singer Dolly Parton, participants in the Challenge composite four photographs of themselves labelled, “LinkedIn”, “Facebook”, “Instagram”, and “Tinder”. The idea is that each photograph presents a version of the user that corresponds to a different professional, social, or romantic context. The humour in the meme lies in confessional self-awareness – a person can appear and act in one context in a way that might seem awkward or inappropriate in another.
As workplace investigators, we have all been there…we thought there was just one allegation. We had visions of an easy, straightforward, and speedy investigation. But then you meet the complainant and when you ask them, “Is there anything else?” it turns out there is much, much more.
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.