Published on: August 16, 2022
Workplace investigations are an important part of maintaining a harassment-free workplace and are mandated by legislation throughout Canada. When an investigation is done fairly and thoroughly it can uncover problematic behaviour, make the complainant feel heard, and give the employer a broader understanding of systemic issues. The darker side of investigations is that the employees involved and the workplace as a whole are sometimes left bruised and fractured in its wake. However, this outcome is not inevitable. Investigations – even messy ones – can leave the workplace in a stronger, healthier state if some critical issues are taken into consideration.
- Consider opportunities for improvement
Even if the allegations under investigation proved unsubstantiated, something caused the relationship between two or more parties to become so fraught that an investigation was necessary. Investigators often uncover a wealth of information, not only about the parties and witnesses but about the organization as a whole. It makes sense to use that information to reflect on what next steps (such as coaching or policy changes) might be necessary to prevent similar complaints from arising.
- Consider the relationship between the parties
Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, it is likely that the relationship between the parties has been damaged during the process. In most cases, both parties will have said negative things about each other and are aware of the negative comments made by the other side from reviewing the report or the summary of the investigation. For employees that already had a relationship breakdown severe enough for the investigation to occur in the first place, the investigation process can be the final straw, and working together in the future can seem impossible. Thought must be given to what supports can be put in place to transition them back to a healthy working relationship.
- Consider the impact on the workplace as a whole
Confidentiality is a key component of workplace investigations, but in reality, information about the investigation often spreads further than it should. Other employees may be called as witnesses in the investigation, or might hear about it through office gossip. Knowing that something distressing is happening without knowing all the details can create tension and distrust. Sometimes specific action is needed to curb the rumour mill and restore the employees’ trust in management and the workplace.