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.
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.
It certainly seems that way. A recent annotated bibliography by the University of Calgary presents some pretty staggering data that suggests that academic dishonesty is “widespread amongst Canadian students and faculty.” The authors reviewed 68 studies on academic integrity performed in Canada up to and including 2017. The paper states that between half and 90% of students self-report academically dishonest behaviours.
Policies and procedures serve many roles in the workplace. In simplest terms, a policy sets out the legislation-mandated as well as the expected standards of behaviour for employees and stakeholders. Procedures provide a how-to guide to direct individuals where to go when they question the behavior they see or experience.
A complainant files a harassment or discrimination complaint and then quits. A respondent says the allegations are ridiculous and refuses to participate.
What do you do when the individuals who have the most important information refuse to participate in a workplace investigation?
With the second anniversary of the Bill 132 changes fast approaching (September 2018), my hope is that organizations can use some of this insight to shape future iterations of their own workplace harassment policies which, pursuant to the legislation, must be reviewed on (at least) an annual basis.