Managing the Workplace Following a Workplace Harassment Investigation
by Chris McKinnon at HR Proactive
In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) requires employers to investigate allegations of workplace harassment. The process can be upsetting to the smooth functioning of a business. Sometimes the evidence will not support the claim. Other times, discipline or even termination can result. Inevitably, one party or the other (either the complainant or the respondent) will be less than happy with the outcome of the investigation.
The following are tips on how to manage the workplace after the investigation and fallout.
Be Sure to Complete the Investigation Process
The OHSA requires that the investigation findings be shared with the parties. The parties should have an opportunity to respond and receive clear indication that the process is complete before a decision on appropriate action is made. Bringing the matter to a conclusion helps the parties to return to regular operation in the workplace.
Only the parties have the right to know the outcome of the investigation. Any decision on discipline for the respondent is confidential. For example, the complainant may be told that their harassment complaint was upheld but does not necessarily need to know the details of any discipline imposed on the respondent.
An anti-harassment program in many workplaces is just a paper exercise that suddenly becomes important to workers when there is a complaint. Review the program with the Joint Health and Safety Committee. Providing refresher training to the entire workplace (or in some cases targeted segments or even individuals) assures that harassment is seen to be taken seriously and that there are fair and appropriate procedures in place to address it.
Does your workplace have an Employee Assistance Program? Any party or witness expressing stress or experiencing health issues related to the investigation should be advised of the availability of assistance.
Consider team building exercises. HR Proactive has had experience with harassment complaints that divided the workplace into workers who supported the complainant and those who supported the respondent. Not surprisingly, there was ongoing conflict. Training and team building exercises can help to overcome these problems.