Workplace violence and harassment in the workplace is a very serious issue. In fact, it’s estimated that over 300,000 instances of workplace harassment are reported every year. Many more cases go unreported.
Employers must have a policy in place that prohibits harassment and violence in the workplace. The policy must be supported by a program, and the program must include a reporting process. If an employee makes a report, the employer must investigate.
Learn More about Employer Requirements in Ontario
Violence and Harassment Investigations are Mandatory
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the Act), “In order to protect a worker from workplace harassment, employers must ensure that an investigation is conducted into incidents and complaints that is appropriate in the circumstances [section 32.0.7(1)(a)].”
Incidents must be investigated when there is a formal complaint, or if the employer otherwise becomes aware of behaviour that contravenes the policy.
Who Conducts the Investigation?
Complaints should be investigated by someone in senior leadership, an HR representative or manager, and a member of the JHSC if appropriate. As well, it may be necessary to bring in a third party at the expense of the organization.
Remember that the investigator should never be involved in the claim. In cases where the claim is against a senior manager or HR representative, bring in other workers as appropriate, or consider a neutral third party as well.
How to Investigate a Workplace Violence and Harassment Claim
When there is a report of harassment or violence in the workplace, the complainant is entitled to a fair and timely investigation. The investigation should be treated seriously, and it must be given appropriate attention. Those taking part in the investigation must remain neutral and professional at all times. Investigation stages may include:
- Document review
- Interviews with the complainant
- Witness interviews
- An interview or interviews with the alleged harasser
- Examination of photos if applicable
- A review of any relevant electronic records, such as emails, phone records, texts, or video
All investigation actions (meetings, interviews, etc.), steps, and reviews must be carefully documented. Doing so supports due diligence. As well, the worker or workers who made the complaint must be kept apprised through the investigative process of the progress of the investigation.
Making a Decision
The investigative team must determine whether harassment occurred. Regardless of the decision, the investigators must prepare a report detailing their findings and decision. As well, the worker or workers who lodged the complaint must be informed of the outcome. This includes telling them both the outcome of the investigation and of any potential disciplinary or corrective actions being taken if harassment is confirmed. This information must be provided in writing.
Workplace Violence and Harassment Training
Get proactive about preventing workplace violence and harassment. Effective workplace violence and harassment training helps employers safeguard from having to investigate violence or harassment against one of their own. BEST Safety Training also offers accident investigation training. This recently updated course will help employers understand all of the steps involved in a workplace investigation, as well as cover interviewing techniques, reporting requirements, and other crucial information.