As a reviewer of workplace investigation reports, I try to encourage the use of plain language. By this, I mean that I try to make sure that a report can be easily understood by the people who read it. I admit that this is not always easy. I am a lawyer, after all, which means that I was trained to make everything sound more complicated than it really is.
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.
I recently did a three-part webinar series on writing workplace investigation reports with my colleague, Janice Rubin. These were short half-hour sessions during which participants could submit questions to us in writing. We had clearly underestimated how much we had to say about writing investigation reports and didn’t have time to get to the questions. In this blog, I answer some of the really good questions that we received.
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.
I suspect that for many of you, conducting investigations and report writing is a once in a while occurrence rather than a full-time job like it is for us here at Rubin Thomlinson. Many of you are busy human resources professionals and counsel with endless competing day-to-day priorities. Likely, you are pulled in many different directions, putting out small fires and trying to keep up with all of those urgent emails and phone calls. For you, investigations may feel particularly disruptive and the process of producing a good-quality investigation report daunting.
C’est une question que l’on nous pose souvent pendant notre formation sur les techniques de base en matière d’enquêtes au travail. Devons-nous vraiment tout dévoiler avant l’entrevue avec la partie intimée? Certains participants pensent que la partie intimée fournira des informations plus spontanées et candides s’il y a un élément de surprise pendant l’entrevue. Si la partie intimée reçoit une information détaillée, elle aura ainsi plus de temps pour inventer une histoire qui se conforme aux allégations et aux éléments de preuve. Cette tactique, toutefois, se fond sur une supposition que l’intimé cache quelque chose et est donc « coupable » de ce dont il est accusé. Cette approche n’est pas impartiale et peut mener à une conclusion que la partie intimée a été privée de son droit à l’équité procédurale.
I began my legal career as a young litigation associate in private practice and like many lawyers, found the first few years tough. The hours were often long, the timelines tight and the pressure to produce perfect work was constant. At the time, it was difficult to see why I was putting myself through this and eventually, I left private practice to become in-house counsel. I reflected upon those years many times after I left and begrudgingly, came to realize that the training I received had served me well over the course of my career. This was especially true of the writing skills I had developed, mostly by preparing court submissions under the supervision (read: scrutiny) of senior lawyers. These lawyers taught me the importance of putting myself in the shoes of the reader, a lesson that has had the most impact on the way I write investigation reports and review the reports of other investigators.