Workplace Investigations and Employee Rights in Ontarioachkarlaw-admin
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “OHSA“), employees in Ontario have a right to be protected against workplace harassment and violence. Employees may also find protection under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code“) if they experience discrimination based on their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or other listed grounds covered by the Code.
Employers must conduct investigations into all claims of workplace harassment. Upon receiving a harassment complaint, the employer must undertake an investigation and proactively ensure the safety of all employees.
What happens if you are the subject of a harassment complaint? What are the steps you must go through, and what can you expect? This article presents the steps individuals should take if they find themselves accused of harassment in the workplace.
What is Workplace Harassment?
The OHSA defines harassment as “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.” Harassment can take different forms, including statements or actions expressed in person or otherwise.
There are many distinct ways that workplace harassment can take place, including bullying, discrimination, and actions that foster a hostile and unsafe work environment. Inappropriate jokes, slurs, name-calling, ridicule, insults, physical assaults or threats, and interference with work performance are just a few examples of workplace harassment. A claim of workplace harassment can be substantiated if a reasonable person would deem the alleged comment or behaviour unwelcome.
The definition provided by the OHSA also applies to remote workplaces. Text messages, private video conversations, and phone calls—even while using personal devices—can constitute remote harassment.
Investigating a Harassment Complaint
Regardless of whether employees operate in person or work from home, the employer must promptly conduct an investigation when it receives a harassment complaint.
Based on the findings of the investigation, the employer may take disciplinary action against the harassing employee.
Employers must have a clear complaints process in place. Employers must determine what kind of workplace investigation could be necessary in order to appropriately address allegations of workplace harassment. In some cases, the human resources department or in-house legal counsel can handle the investigation. In other circumstances, the employer should hire a third-party investigator.
The Employment and Human Rights Lawyers at Achkar Law can assist employers in conducting their investigation and provide guidance on the proper procedure to follow.
What Happens if You Are Accused of Harassment?
If you are accused of harassing someone, you must prepare to answer the allegations. Severe allegations or holding a prominent position may trigger a formal investigation.
If an investigation occurs, it is probable that you will receive an invitation to participate in an interview with the investigator. Before the interview, it is customary for you to receive a written copy of the complaint and be granted a few days to review it. It is standard procedure for the investigator to interview the complainant, the accused person, and any witnesses. Depending on the facts provided in the interviews, the investigator may also ask follow-up questions afterwards.
We recommend your active participation in the investigation process. Refusing to respond to the investigators inquiries or providing evasive answers may lead the investigator to deem your statements unreliable.
As part of the investigation, there is a possibility of being transferred or suspended from your position. You might also receive instructions to maintain a distance from the complainant or to communicate only as necessary of your role.
Individuals accused of workplace harassment may experience feelings of nervousness or intimidation throughout the process. We recommend speaking with a lawyer as soon as possible. Delaying action until the conclusion of a workplace harassment investigation and the rendering of a decision could potentially have consequences for both your job and reputation.
You can seek assistance from Achkar Law, which comprises Employment law and Human Rights lawyers, to defend yourself and navigate the investigation process. Our experts can help you respond to the results of an investigation if you believe they are unfair or biased.
Employers have a duty to provide employees with a safe work environment free from any harassment, as well as an obligation to investigate all complaints of workplace harassment. Upon receiving a complaint, the process will commence, and the investigation team will examine the allegations. The investigator usually interviews the complainant, the accused person, and any witnesses. The employer should have clear policies in place to deal with harassment complaints.
If you are an employer or an employee needing assistance with a harassment complaint, our team of experienced workplace lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at 1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected], and we will be happy to assist.