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Do You Need to Investigate?

Although human resources professionals spend a lot of time building structures, policy, processes, and procedures, we have to admit that we also spend a great deal of time navigating the gray of human behaviour and how to deal with issues when they arise. While there are judgement calls that need to be made when dealing with people, those decisions should be consistent, fair, and defensible.

At no time is this more true than when confronted with a workplace complaint.

There are many different complaint or grievance procedures that any business or organization could follow. When deciding on your course of action, there are a couple of factors you should keep in mind.

1. The severity of the complaint

Most written Harassment Prevention Procedures suggest that the complainant ask the subject of the complaint to STOP. This depends on the comfort level of the complainant and should not be forced. When it can happen, however, it can result in the best outcome. It is entirely possible that the subject of the complaint is unaware of the effect of their comments or actions and alerting them (and setting expectations) can lead them down the path of self-awareness and, in some cases, to an amicable relationship.

2. Whether it contravenes policy

Your Harassment Prevention Policy should have a definition of harassment that clearly outlines unacceptable behaviour. It is important to note that the intentions behind the comment or action are not relevant when determining whether it meets the definition, it is evaluated based on the perception of the complainant.

3. If there is no question as to what happened

If all parties readily admit to the events that occurred, it does not need to be investigated and management can move forward to the next steps of resetting expectations and taking disciplinary action, if warranted.


Things to consider with workplace investigations

All of that said, an investigation may be needed in order to treat the complaint with due process and respect. Everybody has the right to a safe workplace and it is the duty of the employer to provide one.

1. Being responsive: Promptly investigating complaints makes the complainant feel like they are being taken seriously. It will also show other employees that their concerns will not be ignored should they have any in the future.

2. It’s the law: The law (whether you are federally or provincially regulated) requires that claims of violence, threats, and discrimination all need to be investigated and documented to ensure the workplace is safe and that you are complying with relevant workplace health and safety laws.

3. Calling in experts: When the complaint is particularly serious, there is no one trained to conduct investigations, or there is a conflict of interest with the in-house person most knowledgeable about performing investigations, it may be necessary to call the police or a certified third-party investigator.



Investigations are intimidating. The key to navigating through them is to stick to the process, be consistent, and work through the steps. Most of all, ask for help if you are unsure.


Workplace Investigations is one of the many offerings of Legacy Bowes’ HR Advisory Services team. To learn more, please visit: https://legacybowes.com/our-services/business-advisory-services/hr-advisory-services.

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