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Handling workplace investigations as a business owner

As a business owner in British Columbia, you are obviously aware of the importance of handling investigations of workplace harassment claims appropriately. A flawed investigation can have significantly adverse consequences for an organization. For that reason, it is essential for business owners, managers and supervisors to learn the correct procedures for handling such matters.

Workers in all industries have rights to healthy and safe workplace environments. As an employer, you must understand your role and duties in the event of a workplace harassment complaint with relation to the investigation. The Occupational Health and Safety Act provides guidelines for this process.

The investigation must be appropriate

In order to prevent legal issues arising out of inappropriately managed investigations, specific steps may avoid violations of human and employee rights. An appropriate investigation must be:

  • Prompt: Unless there are compelling reasons, an investigation into a workplace harassment complaint should not last longer than 90 days. Reasons to extend the inquiry may include multiple witnesses or the unavailability of specific witnesses due to illness or other valid reasons.
  • Objective: The senior person who conducts the investigation must not be the accused harasser. The investigator must be unbiased and impartial.
  • Confidential: Disclosure of all the information relating to the incident, the complaint or the involved individuals is prohibited -- except when corrective or legal action requires disclosure.
  • Thorough: The investigator must interview the person alleging harassment, the accused person along with any other witnesses and ask specific questions and take detailed notes of all the interviews.

Who can conduct the investigation?

The individual whom you choose to conduct the investigation must know the reprisal provisions related to workplace harassment under the OHSA Law as well as the workplace harassment policy of the company. The following guidelines exist for the choice of an appropriate investigator:

  • Internal at location: If an employee files a complaint about other employees isolating him or her from activities and calling him or her derogatory names instead of using the worker's name, a site supervisor who has no involvement in the alleged harassment can conduct the investigation.
  • Internal off location: If your company has a separate corporate head office, a harassment complaint against a supervisor can be investigated by a suitable senior person from the head office.
  • External investigator: Under certain circumstances, it might be necessary to retain the services of a private investigator, lawyer or human resource professional to conduct an investigation.

In all three types of investigations, the designated investigator must provide the worker who filed the complaint and the accused harasser with a written summary of the investigation results and the corrective action ordered.

Mishandling of a workplace investigation can adversely affect your business on various levels. For that reason, many other British Columbia business owners who have to deal with these challenging scenarios choose to utilize the services of a lawyer who is experienced in dealing with employment law issues. He or she can provide the necessary guidance or navigate workplace investigations on your behalf.

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