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I was actually going to write this blog last fall but it seems even more timely now. I have done a number of investigations in the past year where some of the allegations and evidence concerned conversations on various instant messaging platforms: Slack, Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp. While I seem to have developed a sub-specialty with investigations in the Tech sector, I confess that the first time a party spoke to me of Slack, I was somewhat clueless. I quickly became versed in Slack once the parties and witnesses to my investigations started showing me the conversations they had had with their colleagues and managers on Slack. I have, unfortunately, seen it all this past year: flirting, love confessions, condescending comments, racist remarks and jokes in bad taste. These comments were, at times, made by senior leaders and supervisors, or between colleagues and fellow students.
I was having some difficulty understanding what might possess someone to post such comments on these platforms when they generally ought to have known better. And then came Covid-19 and working remotely resulted in my own firm beginning to use Microsoft Teams. When our first group chats were launched, one of the partners of our firm reminded us that it remained an employment-related communication tool subject to all of the usual policies on respectful workplace communications. I thought this caution was rather amusing given that we are investigators and trainers of respect in the workplace. But then I noticed how easy-going our chats became and it was not entirely a stretch to imagine how such conversations could become overly informal and unacceptable workplace communications. I am pleased to inform you that this has not occurred – we are professional workplace investigators after all!
As the third rule of my colleague Liliane Gingras’ blog on “Five Respect at Work Rules for the Remote Workplace” states, the usual rules regarding respectful workplace communications apply to whatever instant messaging platform the employer has implemented. As she notes, this means no vulgar language, discriminatory jokes, crass videos or pornographic images. Given the increased prevalence of these instant messaging platforms and the tendency to view them as a more informal means of communication, it is good practice for employers to send regular reminders about the application of respectful communication rules to all modes of communication. Furthermore, an organization’s awareness of inappropriate online communications could trigger an obligation to investigate.
In other words, think twice about what you are communicating via Slack because what you thought might be amusing could end up being evidence in a workplace investigation.
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