Jun 01, 2017

By Melanie Reist, Lawyer

In the ...

May 23, 2017

By Morrison Reist

The Ontario Bar Association has named...

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Workplace Investigations

In 2009 Bill 168 introduced changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act creating statutory obligations for employers to protect employees from violence and harassment in the workplace.  In October, 2016 the Ontario Government introduced the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan (Supporting Survivors and Challenging Sexual Violence and Harassment, 2016) (Bill 132 for short).  Bill 132 builds on the prior legislation and specifically addresses sexual violence and harassment in the workplace.  In this changing legal landscape businesses need to have clear policies to address workplace violence and harassment (which now includes sexual violence and harassment) in the workplace and a mechanism for following through when complaints come forward which are compliant with the increased requirements of Bill 132.  An employee needs to have and follow policies and procedures that provide a consistent and effective manner in which to investigate these issues.  

Further, Bill 132 now requires employers to investigate not only complaints but also incidents of workplace harassment that they become aware of.  As Ministry of Labour inspectors now have enhanced powers to order an employer to cause an investigation to be conducted at its own expense by an impartial person possessing the knowledge, experience or qualifications as specified by the inspector it is important for employers to have in place appropriate processes and trained employees or alternatively use competent external investigators to deal with incidents and complaints as they arise.  By doing so not only will it help to create a healthier workplace that is responsive in a timely manner to issues when they arise but it could also minimize the likelihood of any visits and possibly orders being issued by the Ministry.

Investigations into allegations of workplace harassment, discrimination or employee misconduct need to be done in a fair and impartial manner.  A basic requirement is that employees be provided with particulars of the allegations of wrongdoing and then provided a reasonable opportunity to respond.  Failure to do so can substantially increase the costs of dismissal.

Melanie has been hired in a variety of circumstances as a neutral third party investigator to meet with individuals where there have been complaints of violence, harassment or allegations of employee misconduct.   Melanie is familiar with and applies best practices in workplace investigations to ensure a fair process which will result in findings that employers can rely upon with confidence when making what are often very difficult personnel decisions.