Evidence Collection: Practical Tips for Workplace Investigations

Practical Tips for Workplace Investigations
Labour Relations

Overview

Workplace investigations have become commonplace across Canada. Many Canadian jurisdictions require that employers implement workplace harassment and discrimination policies, which often include mandatory investigation provisions. Whether or not investigations are legally mandated, it is sound practice for an employer to conduct an investigation when there may be potential workplace harassment, human rights violations, breach of company policy, criminal activity, security breaches, legal action, or media scrutiny.

A fair and reasonable investigation can provide a defense for employers to assist in future litigation and/or human rights complaints.[1] Beyond legalities, investigations can also assist employers in identifying and resolving workplace issues, helping them to create a more productive and healthy working environment. For all of these reasons, workplace investigations provide an important function in today’s workplace. However, an investigation will only be useful if it is conducted in a fair and reasonable way.

Collecting the evidence is a fundamental step in conducting a fair investigation. Evidence may include witness statements, video surveillance, supporting documents (emails, letters, phone records, time sheets, text messages, photographs) and any other useful information regarding the relevant issues. While many witnesses may participate in good faith, people’s memories are not always reliable, and co-workers may share stories before an interview which could taint recollections. Further, not all witnesses will participate in good faith, resulting in dishonest and/or inaccurate witness statements on some occasions. Because of witness unreliability, workplace investigators should adequately instruct witnesses on confidentiality, while also making best efforts to collect and to preserve supporting documents when available. Following proper processes will assist investigators in ensuring that they have meet the good faith standard as required to conduct and complete workplace investigations. This article will highlight important considerations in collecting and preserving evidence when conducting a workplace investigation.

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[1] See for instance: Morgan v. University of Waterloo, 2013 HRTO 1644 (CanLII) where the HRTO held that the university’s response to the complaint was “reasonable” and that the university had met its duty to investigate the circumstances; therefore, the award for damages came from the individual respondent only (and not the university). In this regard, a reasonable response and proper investigation can vitiate liability even in a circumstance where there is a finding that workplace harassment occurred.

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