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Employment & Labour

'Not business as usual' when workplace investigation ends: Williams

What follows after a workplace investigation is just as important as the inquiry itself, Markham-based employment lawyer Laura Williams tells AdvocateDaily.com.

In a recent presentation to the annual conference of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) in Toronto, Williams, founder and principal of Williams HR Law and Williams HR Consulting, stressed the importance of bringing a workplace investigation “to its proper closure.”

“It’s not just back to business as usual when the case ends,” she says. “There are many different impacts that an investigation has on the workplace that the organization sometimes doesn’t think about.”

Williams says harassment inquiries can lead to a disruption that can linger long after the matter has been addressed.

“Many organizations take their eye off the ball in that respect,” she says. “Investigations can be extremely traumatic to a company’s working environment.”

A probe can have a “chilling effect” and may also lead to workplace gossip and conjecture, Williams says. The aftermath of a contentious inquiry could include damage to the company’s brand, lost credibility, dissension, an inability to attract quality talent or even the loss of staff who have become disillusioned.

Workers may also experience a decline in job satisfaction, morale, productivity, motivation, self-esteem and confidence, she says.

In her presentation to the HRPA, Williams noted that the “worst time to plan for a crisis is when you’re in the crisis.”

“The upshot is that it is really important for an organization to be proactive and pre-emptive when it comes to dealing with the fallout,” she says. “The best way to do that is by putting some forethought into a restorative plan.”

That plan could include assessing prospective risks and impact, conducting a post-incident assessment and creating a communications strategy, both internal and external, Williams says.

The employer should consider “restorative activities” such as town hall meetings, team-building exercises, coaching, or third-party intervention, she says.

Williams says an inquiry that has not been brought to a proper conclusion could “spawn other investigations,” and it is vital for those in charge to revisit policies and make any necessary changes.

“I see opportunities in issues. Here is an opportunity for the organization to regain its credibility and improve its culture,” she says. “We can go through situations that have some excellent teaching moments, but if we fail to share those lessons, we can end up repeating the mistakes.”

Followup is also essential Williams says, and companies should continue to evaluate the effectiveness of any restorative measures.

“You really need to do a debriefing to access what got you there and how you can avoid having it happen again,” she says.

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