The first step in any new investigation is to review the workplace harassment policy. As both an investigator and someone who has written workplace harassment policies, I sometimes find myself sighing deeply as I conduct this review, knowing that some parts of the policy are going to make the investigation process harder – not only for me, but for the parties and the employer as well.
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).
This is the first in a series of blogs that I will be writing on workplace whistleblowing. There is not a lot of practical information available on the topic and I want to help shed some light on how employers can be better prepared to deal with employees who blow the whistle.
I am somewhat of an anomaly in that I have a lot of hands-on experience with this subject matter. I have managed whistleblowing programs, conducted intake interviews with whistleblowers and investigated alleged wrongdoing disclosed by whistleblowers.
For this blog, I thought that a good place to start would be to provide general information about workplace whistleblowing given that it is a topic that is foreign to many.
Investigations of misconduct within schools, sports organizations, churches, and community or recreational organizations or programs can involve children as parties and/or witnesses. Any investigation that involves children presents a challenge for investigators for a variety of reasons. On a human level, the vulnerability of a possible child victim of misconduct is taxing to deal with emotionally and psychologically. And the investigator bears the added burden of trying to ensure that no additional harm is visited on the child through the investigation process. In considering the role of an investigator as someone who must collect evidence from a child, the challenge for the investigator is to find an approach that will enable the child to provide the best evidence they can. The additional challenge here is that there are limited resources available to guide investigations that involve child parties or witnesses.
In a recent decision, T.A. v Manitoba (Justice), 2019 MBHR 12 (CanLII), the Manitoba Human Rights Board of Adjudication (the “Board”) took a major step by ordering the Government of Manitoba to revise the criteria for changing sex designation to include recognition of non-binary sex designations on Manitoba birth certificates. This was the first adjudication in Manitoba on gender identity since its inclusion in the Manitoba Human Rights Code (the “Code”) in 2012.
2020 will see important shifts in how employers in federally-regulated industries prevent and address workplace harassment and violence. New rules will soon come into effect that will increase employers’ responsibilities to respond to incidents of harassment and violence, and also prevent any such incidents from occurring. I will be writing a series of blogs about these requirements so that employers and investigators can better prepare for what’s coming.
Workplace investigators all do the same thing when they conduct an investigation: they tell participants to keep the investigation and its subject-matter confidential. This instruction helps protect participants’ privacy and maintain the integrity of their evidence. But what happens to this confidentiality requirement when the investigation is over? How does an employer respond when a participant in an investigation says that they want to tell their story, in their own words, to an audience beyond the painstakingly neutral and objective investigator?
In our digital era, investigators must be increasingly technologically savvy. Evidence can take on many forms, including texts, emails and social media accounts. Many employers provide company-issued phones, which, more often than not, happen to be iPhones that are controlled by Apple IDs and rely on virtual storage. As the workplace is further digitized, and as more offices become mobile or virtual, investigations will naturally be dealing with evidence that is stored virtually on a cloud. As the decision District of Houston v. Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 2086 (“District of Houston”) illustrates, sometimes when evidence is stored virtually, it is not so easy to access.