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Employment & Labour

MacLeod LLP helps employers train harassment investigators

Employers can save time and money by training an internal investigator to handle harassment complaints, says Toronto employment lawyer Doug MacLeod, who has teamed up with a workplace investigation expert to offer a one-day training session on Feb. 14.

MacLeod, principal of MacLeod Law Firm, explains that recent legislative changes have created a “cottage industry," prompting a number of lawyers — and even whole law firms — to devote themselves entirely to handling these employee complaints. 

In 2016, Bill 132 amended Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act by mandating employers to conduct investigations into incidents of alleged workplace harassment. The bill also explicitly expanded its definitions to include sexual harassment and provides provincial inspectors with the power to order an impartial probe at the employer's expense.

The new law was a supplement to the earlier Bill 168, which introduced requirements for risk assessments and policies into such matters.

“There’s a very generic definition of harassment in the Act, which is not very helpful,” MacLeod tells AdvocateDaily.com, adding the regulations require an appropriately trained individual to carry out these internal reviews.

And while larger employers are able to send members of their human resources department for expensive and days-long training to enable them to conduct these examinations in-house, MacLeod says that’s simply not an option for smaller- and medium-sized employers, who are often forced to turn to expensive contractors to perform the services.

“That’s if you can even find one. Employees are becoming more aware of their rights and making complaints, and professional investigators are all working above capacity as a result. That can be terrible because many of these situations are very time-sensitive,” he says. “Part of the problem is that not enough internal investigations are going on.”

MacLeod says that by taking part in this one-day training session, participants will “learn by doing” through a simulated examination.

“This is a low-cost way of giving people the skills they need if someone comes forward with a complaint. Most can be dealt with internally very quickly and effectively,” he says.

In some cases, an outside investigator is the best option, even for smaller employers, but MacLeod says this basic training will allow attendees to identify which cases they can handle themselves.

“If the complaint is against the president, and the investigator is supposed to report to the president, then it’s not going to work,” he says. “As the number of complaints goes up, you need someone with knowledge of the process who can triage, and decide whether this is one that can be handled internally, or if you’ll have to bring someone in.”

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