workplace investigations

We’re pleased to share a recent Canadian HR Reporter article, “Whistleblowers fear job loss, disclosure, retaliation”, with insight from Andrew Shaw. The article discusses the reasons why employees may be reluctant to report instances of wrongdoing by coworkers or members of management and what employers can do to facilitate legitimate complaints being brought forward.

Forty percent of Canadian workers experience bullying on a weekly basis. Moreover, 7% of adult internet users in Canada self-reported experiencing cyberbullying at some point in their life. The most common form of cyberbullying involves receiving threatening or aggressive emails or instant messages.[1]
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Recent arbitration decisions confirm that conduct amounting to harassment or bullying will not be tolerated in unionized workplaces and that an appropriate investigation needs to be carried out in response to a complaint. The approach is consistent with decisions concerning harassment in non-union workplaces, increased legislative protections for workers and a changed social climate brought on by the #MeToo movement.
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In the recent decision of Humber River Regional Hospital and Ontario Nurses Association (“ONA”) (Cherubino Grievance), an Ontario arbitrator dismissed the union’s grievance alleging harassment by a supervisor and found that neither management duties nor the employer’s internal investigation process should be held to a standard of perfection.
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We recently wrote about new requirements for employers to implement comprehensive policies, programs, and investigative procedures to address workplace harassment under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) ‒ see our blog post here. Failing to comply with the OHSA can result in a substantial fine. Employees now also have a green light to bring a civil action in relation to workplace harassment as a result of a recent decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
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In a recent decision, Merritt v. Tigercat Industries, 2016 ONSC 1214, an Ontario court held that the employer did not have sufficient cause for dismissing an employee on the basis of his pending criminal charges and allegations by another employee of potentially related conduct, where the employer had failed to carry out a proper investigation into the matter. This case underscores the need to carry out an appropriate investigation before determining that termination, or any form of disciplinary action, is merited.

The case also brings clarity to the issue of whether an employee can refuse to answer questions in a workplace investigation that pertain to criminal charges brought against him.
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Last month, key elements of Bill 132, Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (Supporting Survivors and Challenging Sexual Violence and Harassment), 2016 (“Bill 132”), came into force. Employers are now required to have comprehensive policies and programs in place to address workplace harassment, along with detailed investigative procedures to be followed in response to complaints or incidents of harassment.

The latter requirement has led many employers to ask whether investigating is enough or if the employer can still be liable if the investigator gets it wrong.
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Key elements of Bill 132, Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (Supporting Survivors and Challenging Sexual Violence and Harassment), 2016 (“Bill 132”) come into force today, amending the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”). As a result, employers are required to implement comprehensive policies, programs, and investigative procedures to address workplace harassment. Bill 132 also expands the definition of “workplace harassment” to include “workplace sexual harassment”.
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