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Data and Investigation Series: Why is collecting investigation data important?

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This is the first in a series of blog posts that I will be writing on data and investigations.1

The ultimate goal of organizations is to get into what we at Rubin Thomlinson call “the zone” – the optimal workplace that is characterized by respect, civility, tolerance, inclusivity, and no, or few, employment-related legal problems. Workplace investigations are one tool that organizations can use to get into the zone; they enable organizations to address complaints of workplace harassment, violence, and discrimination, and take corrective action, if necessary.

However, workplace investigations are also an invaluable source of data that organizations can use in a variety of ways – outside of the investigation process – to help their workplaces get into the zone.

In this blog post, I discuss why collecting investigation data is important and the types of investigation data that organizations may consider collecting. In the next blog post in this series, I will look at methods for collecting investigation data and how organizations can use that data.

How can investigation data help organizations?

Investigation data can help organizations in the following ways:

    • Inform and identify unknown issues and trends

Investigation data can tell organizations about issues that they may not know about, including information that suggests that inappropriate workplace behaviour has occurred or is occurring.

For example, an organization completes 10 investigations in six months. When the organization reviews the investigations, it is determined that six of those investigations involved employees in a specific regional office. This suggests that there may be ongoing interpersonal or cultural issues within that particular office that require support and intervention.

    • Confirm assumptions

An organization may have an idea about what is happening in its workplace, which may be based on anecdotal information from employees, a workplace assessment, an engagement survey, or exit interviews. Investigation data can confirm whether these assumptions are true.

For example, an employer hears from its employees that they feel that racism is a problem in the workplace. When the employer reviews the workplace investigations that it completed in the previous year, the data shows that a high percentage of investigations did involve allegations of racism, and that in many instances those allegations were substantiated.

    • Reveal policy and procedures strengths and weaknesses

Investigation data can reveal how well an organization’s workplace harassment, violence, and discrimination policies and procedures work in practice.

For example, an organization asks complainants what factors prompted them to bring forward their complaints. Most of the complainants state that the independence of the investigator was a factor in their decision. This suggests that the organization should continue to support the independence of investigators so employees feel comfortable bringing forward complaints.

    • Provide a solid foundation for action

Investigation data can provide organizations with a solid foundation for informed and strategic actions.

Using the above example, if an organization finds that a high percentage of its investigations involved allegations of racism and in many instances those allegations were substantiated, the organization may determine that they need to take more proactive anti-racism actions, such as creating an anti-racism policy or implementing anti-racism training.

    • Help move from reactive to proactive

Investigations are fact-finding processes to determine whether certain events occurred in the workplace, and if so, whether those events constituted a violation of the organization’s policies or law. Workplace investigations are generally reactive – that is, they are initiated in response to a complaint about an event after it has purportedly taken place.

By using investigation data to identify trends and patterns in the workplace, an organization can start to proactively address those issues to prevent them from progressing or festering.

For example, an organization’s investigation data shows that 50% of complaints are against middle managers who only make up 10% of the organization’s workforce. The organization may change its onboarding program for middle management to include more training on respectful behaviour and management styles.

What types of investigation data should organizations consider collecting?

There are three categories of investigation data:

    1. Data about complainants and respondents

This type of data provides information about who the complainants and respondents are. This can include:

    • Job data: seniority, job classification (e.g., unionized, non-unionized), job rank (e.g., entry-level, management, senior management, etc.)
    • Relationship data: what is the relationship between the complainant(s) and respondent(s)? (e.g., colleagues, supervisor, direct report, senior leader, etc.)
    • Location data: where do the complainant(s) and respondent(s) work? (e.g., regional office, work unit, on-site, hybrid, remote, etc.)

Organizations may also consider collecting demographic data about complainants and respondents. Demographic data may be obvious given the subject matter of a complaint. For example, if a complainant alleges ableism, this indicates that the complainant is a person with a disability. However, it is an open question whether an organization wants to collect demographic data about complainants or respondents that goes beyond the subject matter of a complaint.

    1. Complaint data

This type of data provides information about the complaints themselves. This includes:

    • Type of complaint: Individual complainant or respondent, multiple complainants or respondents, organizational or policy complaint, management-initiated complaint
    • Subject matter: Harassment, violence, sexual harassment, discrimination, other behaviours defined in organizational policies (e.g., misconduct, disrespectful behaviour, etc.)
    • Timeliness: Length of investigation, number of hours spent on the investigation
    1. Outcome data

This type of data provides information about the conclusion of an investigation and any follow-up actions. This includes:

    • Investigation outcomes:
      • Number of allegations that were substantiated
      • Number of policy violations that were found
      • Which policies were violated
    • Resolution methods: Mediation, training, workplace restoration, change in reporting relationship, etc.
    • Participant follow-up: Satisfaction with process, fairness, transparency, concerns, etc.

Considerations for determining what types of data to collect:

Organizations should be selective and purposeful when deciding what investigation data to collect.

    • What does the organization what to know, and why? For example, if an organization wants to know how prevalent ableism is within its workplaces, the organization may want to know how frequently ableism is alleged as part of workplace investigations and how frequently those allegations are substantiated.
    • Are there specific trends or issues that the organization wants to track? For example, an organization may want to understand how long its workplace investigations take and what factors may lengthen an investigation.

Demographic data is most meaningful when comparator data is available. For example, if an organization wants to know if a particular demographic group is over or underrepresented in investigations, the organization would also need to know how that data compares to demographic data about the overall organization.

Organizational policies (e.g., privacy policies, harassment and discrimination policies) may dictate what data can be collected and for which purposes. When putting together a process to gather investigation data, organizations may wish to conduct a privacy impact assessment or seek advice on how their existing policies or requirements may impact this process.

The above considerations are helpful to see why collecting investigation data is important. As noted above, in my next blog post I will look at the methods for collecting investigation data and how that data can be used by an organization to ensure they embody respect, civility, tolerance, and inclusivity.


1 This blog post is based on a webinar that we did on September 14, 2023, called “Data and Investigations.” If you would like to hear the webinar, please contact us at info@rubinthomlinson.com to request a copy.


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