A Restorative Approach to Workplace Investigations



Most organizations, for good reason, dread the idea of undergoing a workplace investigation. Ensuring the process is fair, sound and supportive can go a long way to reducing anxiety – and getting results.


When difficulties arise or a complaint is filed, the obligation of the employer is to restore the workplace as a healthy entity, says AccessHR Managing Director Sheri Brake. They must ensure that the unacceptable situation, behaviours or working conditions stop and take actions or put measures in place to ensure that they will not recur.


“For us, a workplace investigation is really a fact-finding mission. Yes, it can become large and complex, and it’s always a formal process, but there’s a whole lot of runway before we get to that point. It could just be a couple of conversations. It’s important that investigation participants understand that we are  not going on a witch-hunt; we’re looking into some very specific allegations, with reparation and restoration as the preferred outcome,” says Brake.


A signature of AccessHR’s workplace investigations is its restorative approach, which aims for the least damage to be incurred while achieving the required outcome, exploring early on what those involved in the investigation are prepared to commit to to resolve the situation in a productive and healthy way.


“So, while an investigation can have significant and potentially disciplinary outcomes, from the outset, we speak to all participants about what it’s going to take to get things back on track, for them to feel that this has been resolved fairly and appropriately.”


Further supporting this restorative approach, Brake expounds on the importance of providing mental health support to both respondent and complainant as part if the investigation, a service included in AccessHR’s investigative process.


“In my experience, investigations can be extremely damaging, to reputation and relationships, as well as the impact of disruption to the workplace.” It is for this reason, she says, that you want to avoid “trial by water cooler” and conduct fair, professional, confidential and efficient investigations. 


Increased Frequency


Since 2018, when Occupational Health and Safety legislation increased the obligation to investigate, numbers of investigation requests have grown. But that’s not the only reason Brake receives calls regularly asking for an investigation to be conducted.


“There has been a societal shift in which people are more aware of their rights in the workplace. Plus, more discussion around bullying, sexual harassment and power relationships has helped educate everyone about what shouldn’t be tolerated in the workplace.”


Two Service Offerings


AccessHR’s professional approach to investigations involves several steps, including thorough scope definition, thorough interviews and evidence review and a comprehensive investigative report determining whether the allegations are substantiated, unsubstantiated or inconclusive.


For organizations that wish to keep it in-house, investigations can be done by internal HR professionals. AccessHR provides advisory services, customized training and the required investigative methodology and tools.


Avoiding an Investigation


The good news is that there are ways to avoid a workplace investigation – and it starts at the top with open channels of communication, education and strong workplace policies.


“You need to have a handle on your culture, make sure it’s healthy and evaluate it on an ongoing basis,” says Brake. “If you’re not intentional about creating the culture you want, something else will take over and inappropriate behaviours become the accepted norm.”


To learn how AccessHR can help with your workplace investigation, contact us directly.


AccessHR Inc. provides professional HR consulting services with exceptional quality, creativity and ethical practice. When it comes to supporting clients, we focus on doing the right thing.