Published on: July 19, 2022
It’s no secret that an inadequate workplace investigation can have serious financial consequences for employers, and can lead to embarrassment, reputational damage and even financial liability for third-party investigators. In one recent decision1, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal awarded a complainant over fifty thousand dollars after an inadequate investigation was found to have breached their human rights. In that case, the investigator failed to provide specific information about the allegations to the respondent, and also failed to provide the outcome of the investigation to the parties once it was complete.
Even in cases where an investigator conducts a proper investigation, they can find themselves in trouble if the investigation report does not adequately capture the steps that were taken, or does not sufficiently support their findings with reference to the evidence gathered.
Below are some common errors that investigators make, and tips for ensuring these errors don’t make their way into your reports.
1. Forgetting to explain the steps you didn’t take
Most experienced investigators know that it’s important to outline in the report all the steps taken during an investigation, including who was interviewed and when. What some investigators forget, however, is that it can be equally important to explain why a particular step was not taken. If a witness was present during an altercation but was not interviewed, you must explain why (Were they on an extended sick leave and could not participate? Did they move to a place with no phones or internet access?) Whatever the justification, make sure you write it down in your report.
2. Using complicated terms or legalese
While it is sometimes necessary to make reference to caselaw and legal concepts, in most cases the best way to write a report is using the simplest language possible. Using ten words when five will suffice does not make the investigator seem smarter or more experienced, but it does ensure that the reader will be annoyed by the time they finish the report, and likely will fail to fully understand the evidence and conclusions. If you are comfortable with your evidence and findings, you should be able to explain them using plain language.
3. Being hesitant to put your struggles on the page
Even experienced investigators sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that the workplace investigator is supposed to be a detached automaton, rather than a human being. Workplace investigators make difficult decisions every day, and live with the knowledge that our decisions can lead to dire consequences for either party. If, for example, you have struggled with making a call on a serious allegation when the decision is based only on the relative credibility of the parties, don’t hesitate to explain that within your report. Explaining to the reader the difficulties you had in working through the evidence will not make you seem like a less competent investigator, but rather will emphasize the seriousness with which you treated the investigation and the depth of thought you put into reaching your conclusions.
1AB v 2096115 Ontario Inc cob Cooksville Hyundai, 2020 HRTO 499 (CanLII)
If you are interested in polishing your report writing skills, consider attending our upcoming Report Writing for Investigators online course.