The decision in Magna International Inc.,  O.L.R.D. No. 3687, demonstrates the complications that can arise when workplace investigations are not conducted by a neutral investigator or third-party.
In Magna, an employee made a workplace harassment complaint against a colleague that included allegations of hostile behaviour. Magna’s Human Resources Manager investigated the complaint in accordance with the company’s Workplace Violence and Harassment Procedure. The Procedure allocated the responsibility of workplace harassment investigations to the Human Resources Manager.
However, before the investigation began, there was a dispute between the HR Manager and the Respondent regarding a separate matter. During that incident, the Respondent used threatening language towards her that caused her to fear for her life. Yet, despite these events Magna accepted her role as the sole investigator of the harassment complaint.
Conflict of Interest
The Ontario Labour Relations Board found a conflict of interest with the HR Manager facilitating the investigation for the following reasons:
- She did not have a proper grasp on what constituted a conflict of interest. The HR Manager believed that because she was not related to any of the parties involved she was not in a conflict of interest;
- Her evidence at the hearing conflicted with written statements made during the workplace investigation which indicated that Magna had made findings and concluded the investigation without reviewing the Respondent’s evidence; and
- At the time of the investigation, the Respondent had started legal proceedings against Magna. As such, it is questionable whether Magna should have used an internal investigator given the appearance of bias.
The Board held that having the HR Manager participate in the workplace harassment investigation either confirmed the Respondent’s concerns of bias against him, or indicated the HR Manager was not being truthful when she described feeling fearful after the incident between herself and the Respondent.
Employers must pause and evaluate who is best suited for conducting their workplace investigations. This case underscores the need to avoid bias or even the appearance of bias when conducting an investigation. Further, employers should have workplace policies that are clear on what is a conflict of interest, how it can occur, and provide realistic solutions if a conflict does arise during a workplace investigation.
Please join us for one of our upcoming workplace investigation training sessions to ensure your staff are competent to conduct a sound investigation, and identify when to bring in a neutral third-party to assist. Click here for our upcoming training dates.