Fortunately, or unfortunately, harassment and discrimination investigations have become quite prevalent in the workplace in recent years. Notwithstanding the legislative mandate, it is a positive indication when organizations are responding to complaints of harassment and discrimination within their workplace. However, in my experience as a workplace investigator, I often see quite clearly that, before an organization decides to pursue an investigation, there are multiple opportunities to address some of the issues by using less adversarial means.
It has become somewhat of a Rubin Thomlinson tradition to host a webinar at the beginning of each year outlining our top 10 workplace investigation cases from the previous year. On January 14, 2021, we hosted our most well-attended webinar yet: The top 10 cases of 2020. Here are the discussed themes and a very brief summary of the presentation.
Depuis la mi-mars 2020, la majorité de nos enquêtes en milieu de travail et au sein des institutions postsecondaires se font de façon virtuelle. Donnant suite aux consignes de la santé publique concernant la distanciation sociale, nous rencontrons rarement les parties et témoins d’une enquête en personne, plutôt nous les rencontrons par vidéoconférence. Cette méthode de communication a certaines retombées du point de vue de la langue. Notamment, toute difficulté de compréhension est accrue par voie virtuelle. Il y a toutefois moyen d’atténuer ces difficultés. De plus, les contraintes géographiques disparaissent avec les enquêtes virtuelles.
In our workplace investigation training sessions, we often talk about the four pillars of the investigation process: fairness, thoroughness, timeliness, and confidentiality. The recent decision of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the “Tribunal”), Young v. O-I Canada Corp., is an example of an investigation under scrutiny due to its lack of thoroughness.
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 decision of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario [AB v. 2096115 Ontario Inc. c.o.b. as Cooksville Hyundai, 2020 HRTO 499 (CanLII)], the Tribunal highlighted how an inadequate and unreasonable internal workplace investigation by an employer could result in a breach of the Human Rights Code R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19 (Code).
We have all heard of the myth of Pandora’s Box – a box containing many evils that once released into the world could not be put back. As a third-party workplace investigator, I often think of clients having a Pandora’s Box full of information that, if released, could be prejudicial and could lead to an eventual claim of bias.
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.