Fairness in Workplace Investigations: How Much Should Respondents Know?

Workplace investigations are increasingly complex. New workplace investigators often struggle with how much information to share with the Respondent during the investigative process.

Questions often arise such as:

  • How much information is a workplace investigator required to share?
  • How much information should be shared before the Respondent’s interview?
  • What impact will disclosure or non-disclosure have on the outcome of the investigation?

What is the Standard of Fairness?

As a workplace investigator, you are a neutral third party and it is expected that you carry out your investigative process in a fair and objective way. In other words, in your role, you cannot “favour”, or even be perceived as “favouring”, one party over another. Ensuring that you are equitable towards both the complainant and the Respondent in a workplace investigation helps facilitate procedural fairness and is an essential component of your role.

Further, workplace investigators must remember that when the investigation is complete, their report and the entire investigation process may be subject to scrutiny. This scrutiny includes how “fair” the process was for the parties involved. A key element of this “fairness” includes how much and when information is shared with the Respondent.

Disclosure to the Respondent

Prior to an investigative interview with a Respondent, the Respondent should be made aware of the following:

  • What are the allegations made against them;
  • Who is making the allegations against them;
  • Where the alleged incident(s) took place;
  • When the alleged incident(s) took place.

Further, a respondent should also be advised:

  • that they will have the opportunity to respond to the allegations made against them;
  • that they will have an opportunity to provide their version of events; and
  • that they will be permitted to provide the investigator with the names of relevant witnesses that they would like the investigator to interview.

In addition, when the respondent is provided with the above-noted information, they should be given a reasonable amount of time to prepare for the investigative interview. The amount of time required will depend on the number of allegations made.


The role of a neutral workplace investigator is to find and document the facts. When guilt or innocence is pre-judged, the workplace investigator does a disservice to the investigation and all those involved. Workplace Investigators must remain open to all possibilities, ask appropriate questions, and document the evidence. Providing the respondent with the information noted above is a crucial step in creating a procedurally fair process.

In preparing this article, the author interviewed Jamie Eddy, K.C., a senior labour and employment lawyer with Cox & Palmer in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Mr. Eddy noted that  providing respondents with the allegations made against them prior to their investigative interview is “critical” to the entire investigation process. This step provides a respondent “a key element of procedural fairness”. Mr. Eddy warned that should workplace investigators or employers not provide respondents with the allegations made against them before their investigative interview, they leave themselves open to allegations of procedural unfairness.

For additional support, I have provided a ‘Sample Respondent Letter’ (download a PDF below) for your use. Should you be required to need a letter like this in the future, you can adjust this letter to fit your specific requirements.

About the Author

Devan CorriganDevan Corrigan is an expert in workplace investigations and labour relations, having spent 20 years in human resources management and labour relations before founding an HR consulting company in 2017. He specializes in conducting workplace investigations including investigating complaints of harassment, sexual harassment, violence in the workplace, and other forms of employee misconduct. He holds a Master of Industrial Relations from Queen’s University as well as an Honours Degree in Psychology and a certificate in Human Resources Management from Saint Mary’s University. Devan’s expertise in human resources and labour relations, combined with his background in psychology, make him a go-to third-party workplace investigator. He is a member of the Association of Workplace Investigators and is on the roster for investigators for the Workplace Investigator Network (WIN).

Devan is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation program.

Queen’s IRC a Winner at the Canadian HR Awards

We are honoured to be the recipient of the HRD Readers’ Choice Award for Best Service Provider! The award acknowledges the contributions of a company or individual with a proven track record of providing the HR industry and/or HR professionals with the superior service, solutions and support needed to perform their duties.

Presented by HRD Canada and Canadian HR Reporter, the annual Canadian HR Awards have been recognized as the leading independent awards program in the HR profession. Several members of the Queen’s IRC team were on hand to accept the award at the ceremony on September 15, 2022 in Toronto, ON.

The awards recognize the nation’s most outstanding HR teams, leaders and employers for their achievements, leadership and innovation for their achievements, best practices and leadership in the HR profession over the past 12 months.

In addition to winning the first award of the evening, Queen’s IRC also had the honour of presenting The Queen’s University IRC Award for Best Learning & Development Strategy. This award recognizes and celebrates the HR team that has delivered the most outstanding organizational benefits by directly linking the training needs of their people, at all levels, to the business needs of their organization. Congratulations to the winner, TransAlta.

Visit us on Facebook to see pictures from the awards ceremony.

See the full list of winners.

Bringing HR Strategy to Life: The Importance of Delegated Authorities and How to Make Them Work


One of the many lessons that the pandemic has taught us is that, more than ever, front-line managers and employees need to be ready and able to respond in the moment to the unprecedented demands and expectations of customers and colleagues alike. Effective empowerment and decentralized decision making, both virtually and face-to-face, are what drive great customer outcomes, as well as an engaged and healthy workforce. And in this dynamic digital age that cuts across diverse “brick and mortar” business models and geographies, the need to deliver customer and employee responsiveness and quality is key to both short and longer-term success. Anything less, and customers and employees alike can easily walk and take their buying power and human capital elsewhere.

So, in the face of these realities, how do employers translate human resources [HR] strategies and well intended policies into effective and responsive HR practices and results? A key driver of this success is the clarity and practical application of one’s HR “delegated authorities”.

Knowing what HR decision making authorities to delegate, to whom, and how they need to be supported and applied have become mission critical HR management realities for most organizations regardless of sector. Delegated HR authorities are key to “how” HR strategy is delivered, how desired workplace cultures and employee productivity aspirations are realized. They are also key to how meaningful line management accountabilities for employee engagement, wellness, and performance are achieved.

Queen’s IRC Program Planner – Spring 2022

Download our Spring 2022 Program Planner (PDF) to learn more about our exciting virtual and in-person training options in 2022!

Program Planner - Spring 2022Take a look at what’s inside:

  • A digital guide to assist in your professional development planning
  • Program details for our new 3-credit Organizational Transformation course
  • Dates, locations and fees for 2022 programs
  • How to earn a Certificate in Advanced Human Resources, Organizational Development or Labour Relations

Download the Program Planner now!

Don Wood Lecture Series

Dr. Don Wood

Dr. Don Wood was the Director of the Queen’s Industrial Relations Centre (IRC) from 1960 to 1985. The W. Donald Wood Visiting Lectureship was established in 1987 by many of Don’s friends to honour his dedication to building the IRC. The IRC is internationally recognized for its outstanding research and continuing education programs, and for his many contributions to the wider industrial relations community in Canada and abroad. The Don Wood Visiting Lectureship brings to Queen’s University each year “a distinguished individual who has made an important contribution to industrial relations in Canada, or in other countries.”

About Dr. Don Wood

Known as “Canada’s Dean of Industrial Relations,” Dr. Wood was well-known and much appreciated for his work in bringing together academics and practitioners and closing the gap between the academic world and the professional practice of industrial relations (IR). This reflects the dual focus of his own experience. After serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, Dr. Wood studied economics at McMaster and Queen’s Universities and then at Princeton University, where he was awarded a scholarship and completed a Ph.D. thesis on white-collar unionism. He subsequently gained practical experience as Director of Employee Relations Research at Imperial Oil for five years.

Dr. Wood came to Queen’s University as a professor of economics and served as Director of the Queen’s IRC from 1960 to 1985. During this period, Dr. Wood built a world-renowned research and training institution, one that thrived while other industrial relations centres in Canada folded. He pioneered his continuing education program for human resources managers on employee-employer relationships. He helped shape public policy through his research and publications program, informing debate on key issues such as wage price controls in 1975 and surveying developments and trends in the IR field, and his participation on many federal and provincial task forces. He also assembled a remarkable IR library.

As Founding Director of the School of Industrial Relations at Queen’s University from 1983 to 1985, he created and guided the early development of the new multi-disciplinary Master of Industrial Relations program, which continues as one of Canada’s most respected programs in this field. Following his retirement in 1985, Dr. Wood ran the IRC’s Continuing Education Program for five years, and led training seminars well into the 1990s. His talent for bringing together leading authorities from industry, unions, government, universities and consulting firms for programs enriched the education of IR students across Canada, and internationally. It continues to inspire those involved in IR education and research today.

Listing of Don Wood Visiting Lectureship presenters

The Don Wood Visiting Lectureship brings to Queen’s University “a distinguished individual who has made an important contribution to industrial relations in Canada, or in other countries.” These are the recipients of the Don Wood Visiting Lectureship in Industrial Relations and the title of their public lecture:

Peter Edwards (2015)
Vice-President of Human Resources and Labour Relations at Canadian Pacific
A Futurist’s Look at IR/HR – Why it’s Time to Start Over

The Honourable Warren K. Winkler (2010)
Chief Justice of Ontario
Labour Arbitration and Conflict Resolution – Back to our Roots

Dr. Richard Freeman (2008)
Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University
A New Role for Labour in Financial Crisis?

George C.B. Smith (2007)
Strategic Negotiations: Perspectives from a Road Well-Travelled

Basil “Buzz” Hargrove (2006)
National Automobile, Aerospace, Transportation and General Workers’ Union of Canada (CAW-Canada)
The Current State and Future Prospects of Labour Relations

Linda Duxbury (2004)
Sprott School of Business, Carleton University
Issues in the Workplace: Standing Still is Not an Option

Leo W. Gerard (2003)
United Steelworkers of America
Globalization and North American Integration: Implications for the Union Movement

Francine Blau (2001)
Cornell University
The gender gap: Going, going… but not gone

John Crispo (1999)
University of Toronto
Looking backward and forward: Can industrial relations stand the test of time?

Paula Voos (1998)
Rutgers University
Changing labour markets: Implications for industrial relations

Harry Arthurs (1996)
York University
The new economy: The demise of industrial citizenship

Robert M. McKersie (1995)
Labour-management partnerships: Promise and challenge

Lee Dyer (1993)
Cornell University
Human resources as a source of competitive advantage

Nancy Adler (1992)
McGill University
Human resource management in the global economy

Thomas Kochan (1991)
Innovations in industrial relations and human resources: Prospects for diffusion

John Fryer (1990)
National Union of Provincial Government Employees (NUPGE)
The Canadian labour movement in the 1990s: Challenges and opportunities

John Sexton (1989)
Université Laval
Are Quebec labour relations so different?

John Dunlop (1987)
Harvard University
Industrial relations: Old and new

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