Is it time for spring cleaning, yet? Perhaps not, but it’s definitely time to dust off your harassment policy. “Why’s that?”, you ask. Because the rules of the game are changing when it comes to how you investigate workplace bullying and harassment claims.
To some extent, that’s not accurate; good policies and procedures for investigating bullying and harassment have always been necessary. What’s changing is that the administrative bodies which scrutinize your investigation procedures have been upping their game, with the effect that the demands of WorkSafeBC (here in B.C.) have become more stringent.
Your Harassment Policy – Why It’s Worthy of Your Attention
If your organization hasn’t already been the subject of a WorkSafeBC bullying and harassment complaint, it will be. WorkSafeBC complaints alleging bullying and harassment are truly a growth industry and they are now a feature of many, many workplace disputes.
If your organization has been the subject of such a complaint, you’ll already know that the first thing you’re asked to do is disclose your related policies. A WorkSafeBC officer will scrutinize those policies and will let you know if they are not up to the required standard.
If they aren’t satisfactory, then there’s a high likelihood that the investigation you’ve already conducted into the circumstances of the complaint was faulty. That’s not a great start.
What’s the best way to ensure your policy meets the statutory requirements? It’s simple… you take WorkSafeBC’s stated requirements and work them directly into your organization’s harassment and bullying policy. There will be nothing a WorkSafeBC officer will enjoy more than seeing that your policy closely mimics the statutory requirements.
Federal Investigation Requirements
In June 2020, the federal Labour Ministry published the “Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations” which outlined investigation procedures and requirements. These include…
• timeframes for resolution to better support the complainant and alleged individual,
• confidentiality of all parties involved, including witnesses, throughout the investigation,
• protection for employees victimized by a third party (e.g. an employee harassed by a client),
• qualifications of a competent person to investigate and provide recommendations,
• employer obligations to implement corrective measures in response to the investigation report of a competent person,
• clearly outlining the existing and new roles of a workplace committee, and
• support provided to employees who have experienced workplace harassment and violence.
WorkSafeBC’s Investigation Requirements
In large part, the federal requirements echo WorkSafeBC’s own guidelines. Those provincial guidelines are too lengthy to set out here, but they are available on the WorkSafeBC website at…
The topics which WorkSafeBC expects your policy’s investigation process to cover include…
• how and when investigations will be conducted,
• what will be included, such as interviews with the complainant and respondent and other witnesses, review of related documents and objects, etc.,
• roles and responsibilities of the persons investigating the complaint and the participants in the investigation,
• the follow-up process for informing the complainant and respondent of the outcome as well as implementing any resulting disciplinary measures, etc.,
• record-keeping requirements relating to the contents of the investigation and any related findings, and
• a provision for annual review of the policy’s investigation procedures.
There is much detailed content on the WorkSafeBC website relating to these topics, so I definitely recommend reviewing that material to ensure your policy covers all your bases. Personally, I think that requiring an annual review of your policy is a bit much but, hey, I don’t make the rules.
There is, of course, much more to be said on the topic of conducting a proper investigation into bullying and harassment complaints. I’ve written on that topic previously and there are materials and courses widely available on this topic.
As I mentioned, above, WorkSafeBC bullying and harassment complaints are truly a growth industry. The B.C. Workers Compensation Act offers workers a no-cost venue for raising complaints about treatment in the workplace, and my own experience tells me that they are taking full advantage of that opportunity.
That being the case, if your organization hasn’t already dealt with WorkSafeBC’s complaint process, you can expect that it will in the near future. When that happens, ensuring that the investigation procedures contained in your harassment policy are up to snuff will serve you well.
This item is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. Informed legal advice should always be obtained about your specific circumstances.