In my role as review counsel at Rubin Thomlinson LLP, I review the workplace investigation reports that are prepared by the firm’s investigators to ensure that they are legal defensible. Clients also ask that I do the same for reports that they have prepared internally.
Time has always been of the essence in workplace investigations. In our practice, we go so far as to qualify time as one of the pillars of an investigation. As considerable as it already is, its importance may have reached another level with the recent decision in Toronto District School Board v. Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 44001. In that case, Arbitrator John Stout found the failure to conduct a timely investigation to be a stand-alone ground to conclude a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code (“the Code”).
Many of us are familiar with the expressions “shop talk” or “workplace banter” in reference to conversations that are presumed to occur in certain predominantly male workplaces, such as a construction site or an industrial worksite, but not in others.
At the outset of an investigation, investigators need to consider how they will collect the verbal evidence from their interviewees. One of the best ways to ensure the accuracy of the evidence collected is to use a recording device.
How many of you can relate to that feeling of relief and maybe even joy when you are “oh so close” to completing a task. As a workplace investigator, I can definitely relate. In my experience, it is a great feeling knowing that I am close to placing a checkmark beside an investigation and moving that investigation file to the “closed” section of my files.
In a recent Provincial Court of Alberta decision, Dupont v. Ag Growth International Inc. (AGI-Westeel), 2021 ABPC 118, the trial judge ruled that just cause termination was a disproportionate measure following a workplace investigation where the dismissed employee was found to have sexually harassed a female colleague. The employer subsequently appealed this decision to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, who allowed the appeal.
You may have seen the news recently about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s resignation, following an investigation that concluded that he sexually harassed 11 women from 2013 to 2020. Investigators interviewed 179 people and ultimately found a pattern of unwanted touching and sexually suggestive and inappropriate comments towards staff, State employees and members of the public.
In the normal course of a workplace investigation, the investigator interviews the parties and the witnesses, obtains relevant documents, conducts follow-up interviews where needed, and then drafts a report using the evidence gathered.