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.
When we ask complainants in a workplace investigation whether there were any witnesses to the events that form the basis of their allegations, it is not uncommon to hear, “Well no, but I told my partner/best friend/colleague everything.” This is especially true in cases of sexual harassment or assault, where the events in question often take place in private, without witnesses present.
Most reported cases of sexual misconduct on university campuses follow a common narrative: a male professor engages in sexual misconduct with female student. This scenario pits sexual violence advocates against institutions and engages the media. But what happens when the narrative changes?
Sometimes, when I tell people that I conduct workplace investigations for a living, I am met with surprise. “There is a need for that?” they ask, often adding their view that harassment is a thing of the past. When I explain that it is not only harassment that is a problem in Canadian workplaces, but also violence, I am often met with complete disbelief.
As an investigator, one of the questions I get asked most often is, “How do you know who is telling the truth?” It is a great question, and one that I think all investigators grapple with. Indeed, one of the hardest parts of report-writing is drafting the credibility section. My colleague Megan Forward previously provided a “credibility assessment lexicon” that can come in handy when writing about a party’s credibility. A recent arbitration decision out of Alberta provides some valuable pointers on how to properly assess the credibility of a party’s evidence.
Most people never think that one day they’ll have to recount for an investigator every time a colleague rolled his eyes or responded sarcastically to a question. However, a recent case from the Alberta Court of Appeal, MacLeod v. Alberta College of Social Workers, illustrates just how important the specifics are.
Recently, in the town of Lorette, Manitoba (Pop. 3,208), which is 25 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg, a little inside joke made a very big public splash. The medium? Cake icing. The platform? Snapchat. At a time when employees constantly scroll through their IPhone notifications, mean jokes blasted over social media easily infiltrate the workplace.
Workplace investigations and workplace accommodations are two distinct procedures. The former is a fact-finding process that occurs in response to a complaint or incident of harassment. The latter is a procedure by which an employer and an employee work together to accommodate an employee’s limitations as a result of an injury, illness or disability. But when the accommodation relates to an illness that has an impact on an employee’s interpersonal behaviour, such as a mental illness, these two distinct procedures may intersect.