Conducting Workplace Investigations during a Pandemic

2021-04-24
Sean Gladney

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the way in which employee’s conduct their day-to-day work. No more morning commute, water cooler talk, or dressing in your professional work attire. Now it’s roll out of bed, walk to your desk and perhaps put a nice shirt on, while still wearing your sweatpants. Despite the work from home culture, it’s important to recognize workplace harassment is still prevalent, as harassment still prevails virtually. In the instance of a workplace harassment complaint, the employer has a legal obligation to investigate.

Conducting a workplace investigation during a pandemic appears to have some benefits and challenges. This article will explore just a few of the advantages and disadvantages our team of investigators have encountered while conducting investigation interviews virtually.

First and foremost, conducting virtual investigations guarantees the health and safety of all parties involved as everyone is able to stay home and maintain a safe distance. This in turn, saves all parties from spending time and money travelling to the interview and other potential expenses along the way. Spending less time travelling, allows investigators to schedule more interviews in a day and complete their final report of findings quickly and efficiently.

Maintaining confidentiality is paramount in any type of investigation. Utilizing video calling platforms, such as Zoom or Teams to conduct investigations may pose questions and concerns relating to privacy and cybersecurity. At the start of an investigation, it’s imperative for all parties to be aware of potential cybersecurity threats and the procedures to follow to avoid any risk. When sharing documents, ensure all platforms and systems are secure and only the invited parties to the investigation can access. It’s also important for both the investigator and the witness, to turn off any other apps or technology that may be of distraction such as phone, email, etc. As an investigator, when the interview has finished, always save the video and associated materials in a secure file format. One way to protect documents is by password protecting it with a password, which is something simple and effective. 

Assessing credibility is a significant role of an investigator. Despite having the ability to observe the witness’ facial expressions, lack of eye contact, or tone of voice, the investigator is unable to see any movement or fidgeting below their chest. Some witnesses decline the use of their computer camera or request to speak by phone, which prevents an investigator from reading body language and confirming if anyone is around the witness that could impact their responses. Alternatively, investigations relating to harassment, including sexual harassment can be difficult to talk about, due to the traumatic nature, whether in person or virtually. Our team of investigators have made the observation that some complainants seemed to feel more at ease and comfortable during the conversation, as they were able to disclose sensitive details from the comfort of their own home. 

Our investigators continue to successfully conduct workplace investigations virtually to help mitigate the spread of COVD-19.

 

By Sean Gladney, Vice-President, The Investigators Group Inc.

Sean Gladney is a licensed private investigator. He conducts workplace investigations involving harassment, bullying, discrimination and other forms of misconduct. Sean conducts investigations both provincial laws as well as under the Canada Labour Code in federally - regulated workplaces. 

For more information regarding virtual workplace harassment investigations, you can contact Sean via email at sean@investigators-group.com


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