Toronto Labour & Employment Lawyers Conducting Workplace Investigations and Providing Training
Employers in Ontario have an obligation to keep their workplace safe and free of bullying, harassment, violence, and discrimination. These obligations arise under various pieces of legislation including the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and under collective agreement. This responsibility to maintain a safe workplace comes with a duty to conduct workplace investigations in situations where questionable incidents may arise or are alleged to have occurred.
Workplace investigations must be carried out promptly and very carefully. They should be undertaken only after an employer obtains guidance from a knowledgeable labour and employment lawyer with significant investigation experience. Failure to investigate in a timely, thorough, unbiased, or confidential manner may result in a lawsuit, grievance, or a human rights complaint and significant legal and financial liability for the employer.
At Mallins Law, our exceptional team of Toronto labour & employment lawyers has many years of experience advising unionized and non-unionized employers across all sectors on how to comply with their legal obligations with respect to human rights and safety matters in the workplace. We regularly train clients on carrying out workplace investigations. We can also be retained to conduct investigations where a client may prefer or require a third-party to conduct them.
Best Practices for Workplace Investigations
Where an employee alleges they have been discriminated against, harassed, or subjected to violence in the workplace, the employer must conduct a careful investigation keeping in mind several best practices and legal obligations.
Such investigations must be:
- Undertaken as soon as possible: investigations should be completed as soon as possible. It is advisable that they be concluded within 90 days of a complaint, unless there are reasons why a longer investigation may be needed.
- Objective: investigations should be carried out by an individual who is not directly involved in the alleged incident. This can include someone internal to the workplace, such as a labour relations manager or human resources professional, or an external third-party such as a labour & employment lawyer or other professional with significant knowledge about workplace dynamics and employment law.
- Confidential: investigations should be kept confidential throughout the investigation process and beyond. Information about the complaint itself, the person bringing the complaint, and the person or persons involved in the alleged incident should not be shared with anyone outside of the investigation. Information should only be disclosed in very narrow circumstances, such as in situations where other employees must be protected or if other corrective action must be taken.
- Thorough: investigations should commence after legal advice has been obtained, and should interview as many relevant individuals as possible to ascertain what may have happened. This includes the employee who was allegedly mistreated, the individuals who allegedly harassed, abused, or otherwise mistreated them, and any potential witnesses who may have witnessed this alleged behaviour. Detailed notes should be taken during the interview and relevant documents, photos, and other items should be collected, if necessary.
Importantly, investigations must also:
- Make findings: at the end of the investigation, the investigator (whether internal to the organization or an external third party) should produce a report that outlines who they interviewed/spoke to, what information and evidence they obtained, and what conclusions they came to during the investigation. Prior to providing such a report, legal advice should be obtained.
- Provide recommended next steps: the report produced at the end of an investigation should provide recommendations for addressing the specific situation that led to the complaint (such as transferring or firing a problematic employee), or more broad resolutions aimed at the greater workplace (such as implementing new policies and expectations, updating existing policies or handbooks, or similar). Legal advice should always be obtained before implementing any next steps.
Proactive, Forward-Thinking Advice for Employers
At Mallins Law, we pride ourselves on our proactive and preventative approach to workplace relations.
We provide ongoing risk management guidance to our employer clients so that they can stay ahead of any potential problems or issues. We work with each of our clients to understand their business and the unique workplace dynamics that exist within that business. We can help you ensure you have measures in place to foster a safe workplace and to create a shield against potential problems.
Advising Employers on How to Conduct a Workplace Investigation
Unfortunately, despite implementing forward-thinking measures, in some cases unexpected problems or issues may still arise in the workplace. Where that is the case, and there has been alleged discrimination, harassment, violence or another incident, an investigation will be required.
Employers across Ontario rely on the Toronto employment lawyers at Mallins Law for effective advice on how to conduct workplace investigations in situations where an employee complaint or allegation triggers the employer’s obligation, or where something warrants a closer look.
We provide one on one training for anyone who will be conducting an investigation, advising on best practices, potential areas of risk, obligations and responsibilities, and all other elements of an investigation.
Conducting Investigations on Behalf of Employers
In situations where an investigation looks like it will be complicated, lengthy, or involve multi-faceted elements that an internal investigation may not be able to handle or there is no appropriate internal person available or trained to carry out investigations, it is best to discuss with legal counsel the retention of a third party.
At Mallins Law, we have conducted hundreds of investigations from clients of all sizes and across all industries in Toronto and beyond. Our clients trust us to ensure that all elements of an investigation are skillfully and proficiently carried out, that any issues raised by employees are addressed, that an effective resolution is reached, and that any potential future problems are mitigated.
Mallins Law: Trusted, Knowledgeable Labour & Employment Lawyers Advising on and Carrying out Workplace Investigations
If you are an employer faced with a workplace conflict that requires an investigation, contact the Toronto labour & employment lawyers at Mallins Law. We can help train your staff on how to conduct a proper investigation and ensure you are meeting your legal obligations. Where needed, we can conduct an investigation on your behalf. Contact us online or at 647-792-0310 for a consultation.