When HR professional Morgan Endral transitioned
into a senior role in her organization, she discovered
she had inherited an unresolved harassment com-plaint
lodged by a female executive assistant against
her male supervisor. In it, the assistant claimed that her supervi-sor
failed to look her in the eyes when he addressed her, always
spoke in a harsh tone and consistently left her out of meetings. On
the surface, the complaint appeared straightforward, but it wasn’t.
Endral may not have known that, though, had she not made the
decision to engage a third party to conduct an independent inves-tigation,
which revealed important information.
It turned out that as an immigrant to Canada, the supervisor
regularly avoided eye contact with women as a sign of respect,
his tone sounded harsh because he had not yet learned soft skills
distinctions of communicating in English and the meetings he
excluded the assistant from were confidential in nature. As a result
of these findings, the investigator recommended coaching to help
both parties work together more amicably, a measure that may not
have been considered without a proper investigation.
Interpersonal conflicts and misunderstandings happen in every
workplace, but in the wake of the #MeToo movement there is an
escalation in complaints and greater pressure on HR to address
them in a meaningful and proactive way. That’s tricky to do
because, too often, office politics become as contentious as the
Understandably, HR professionals can start to feel over-whelmed
and vulnerable to criticism as the nuances of harassment
complaints unfold. They find themselves navigating new terrain in
managing problems that used to be dealt with quietly and inter-nally,
if at all. Gone are the days when organizations could look
the other way or just encourage everyone to shake hands and
make up. It is now commonplace to hire an independent inves-tigator
to look into harassment complaints, and best practices are
emerging as a result.
IT’S THE LAW
The cultural tide is shifting on the harassment front, spark-ing
new legislation and more litigation. Thanks to Bill 132, an
amendment to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act,
organizations are required to have a “written program” outlin-ing
how workplace harassment complaints will be appropriately
handled. The new Bill C-65 will soon place stiff requirements on
how federally regulated organizations should manage and prevent
harassment, as well.
Courts are coming down hard on employers for improperly
conducted investigations. A recent Ontario Court of Appeal
judge found that an employer’s internal investigator was “utterly
deficient” with “no experience or training in conducting work-place
investigations.” The complainant was awarded 10 months of
reasonable notice, along with $85,000 in damages. As well, the
organization received significant negative press for its maltreat-ment
of the employee and mishandling of the investigation.
omnimages / 123RF Stock Photo
Beyond the Claim
NINE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HARASSMENT INVESTIGATIONS
By Randi Chapnik Myers, LL.M, Dr. Stephanie Bot, C. Psych. and Donna Marshall, M.A.
HRPROFESSIONALNOW.CA ❚ MAY 2018 ❚ 15