What Employers Need to Know About Workplace Investigations

By Tom Girling ©Girling2021


Let’s face it, no one wants to admit they have a problem in their workplace. It’s natural to think everything is running fine under your watch and people are happy. The truth is, you may not always know what is going on with your employees, especially if you have a lot of them. Your management team may be thinking it’s best to keep “bad news” from you and handle conflict issues themselves. I can’t count how many times employees have told me their supervisors just told them to “try to get along” when confronted with workplace conflict. When your HR department personnel informs you that they have received a workplace harassment complaint, and an investigation is required, we wanted to shine a light on the normal steps that take place prior to the investigation starting.

Firstly, some common terms:

  • The Complainant – the person who filed the complaint
  • The Respondent – the person the complainant alleges violated the policy
  • Witnesses (1,2,3…) – anyone who may have information about the incident, identified by the Complainant, Respondent, other Witnesses or through the investigation)
  • Statement of Allegations – a document, usually a complaint form or memo, authored by the Complainant (or their representative) that outlines the incident(s) and provides information about what happened including when the incident(s) occurred, the location and who the Complainant alleges committed the act. This document may also include the names of witnesses that may have information about the incident.

Next, an External Investigator will generally require the following:

  • Liaison person – someone they can go to ask for information (they cannot be part of the investigation)
  • Statement of Allegations
  • Workplace Harassment Policy and Procedures
  • Applicable Collective Agreements
  • Employee Assistance Program information
  • Confirmation of Notification – the Respondent(s) need to be notified that they are named in the complaint and an investigation is commencing. They also need to be provided a copy of the Statement of Allegations against them
  • Confirmation of Notification – the Complainant needs to be made aware that an investigation has commenced and who is doing it
  • Confirmation of Notification – any Union representatives need to be informed of the receipt of the complaint and that an investigation is commencing
  • Contact information for the parties involved 

It’s good to remember that the External Investigators are impartial and independent of the organization even though they have been hired by you (the employer). Any attempt to influence the outcome of an investigation is unethical and should be met with strong push back.

In anticipation of the day, you get notified of a workplace harassment complaint consider the following:

Do we have an up-to-date comprehensive policy and program covering Workplace Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Violence and Discrimination?

  1. What about separating the parties?
    1. How much time do I have?
    1. Does this complaint warrant an investigation?
    1. Are there other things I can do instead of an investigation? (Alternative dispute resolution process)
    1. Do I have the resources internally to take care of this?
    1. Do I need an external resource?
    1. Does the organization offer support to the parties?
    1. What options do I have if the allegations are substantiated/unsubstantiated?

It doesn’t have to be a minefield! Don’t do this on your own, reach out! There are many organizations with the expertise and background to walk you through it all.

Tom Girling MOM Q Med WFA
Call 1-416-571-0908