Investigating Workplace Harassment: Why it Pays to Bring in a Third-Party Investigator

by | Apr 3, 2023 | Workplace Harassment

When it comes to allegations of sexual harassment, bullying or violence in the workplace, it is critical to conduct a thorough, impartial and unbiased investigation. Serious allegations like these can have severe legal and financial consequences for organizations, making the findings of the workplace investigation subject to intense scrutiny from lawyers, courts, and tribunals. Mishandling evidence, not conducting a thorough investigation, or not taking complaints seriously can lead to lawsuits, fines, and reputational damage. While some companies rely solely on their in-house HR departments to handle these types of investigations, there are several reasons why it’s beneficial to hire an external, third-party investigator.


Allegations of Workplace Harassment are Serious

As allegations become more serious, so do the stakes and the consequences. The findings of the workplace investigation will be heavily scrutinized by lawyers, courts and tribunals alike, making any oversights, errors or omissions in the investigation report that much more consequential.


Potential Consequences and Legal Ramifications if Handled Improperly

If handled improperly, workplace investigations can have serious legal and financial consequences for organizations. Mishandling evidence, failing to conduct a thorough investigation, or not taking complaints seriously can lead to lawsuits, fines, and damage to the company’s reputation. This is why hiring a third-party workplace investigator ensures that the investigation is conducted thoroughly, with transparency, impartiality, and sensitivity with respect to the privacy of the complainant, the respondent and any others interviewed during the investigation.


Preserve Confidentiality by Minimizing the Number of Employees who are Privy to Information

Employees who bring forward complaints of harassment, bullying, or violence at work often feel intimidated, scared, and vulnerable. They may worry about their job security, professional reputation, or personal safety. Confidentiality can help complainant-employees feel more comfortable coming forward with their experiences, knowing that they will not face retaliation or further harassment. It also allows for a more thorough investigation of the incident(s) and can help prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. Employers have a legal duty to create a safe and respectful work environment, free of harassment, bullying, and toxicity; and must ensure confidentiality is preserved for employees who experience this type of behavior and bring forth a formal complaint.


Removes Potential Bias, Conflicts of Interest and Demonstrates Impartiality

Personal and professional relationships can have a major effect on how allegations of harassment, violence or bullying are handled in the workplace. Employees may still perceive the presence of biases, even if these biases do not actually exist, based on their historic experiences with the company. Outsourcing a workplace investigation allows the investigator to focus on the facts instead of the individual and demonstrates an organization’s commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of their employees.


Allows Employees to Speak More Candidly Without Fear of Retribution

Allowing employees to speak more candidly during any investigation, without fear of retribution, is critical and a third-party investigator often puts the employee more at ease. Employees will feel more comfortable speaking to a third-party, unbiased investigator versus a co-worker in-house HR team member, who could potentially influence their employment status or future with the company.


In-House Human Resources Teams May Lack Training/Experience to Conduct a Workplace Investigation

An inexperienced workplace investigator could lead to non-factual findings in the final investigation report and recommendations; making it difficult for the report to be taken seriously under any scrutiny in a court or tribunal setting.

Our team at TSERGAS Human Capital is not only made up of three experienced workplace harassment investigators/HR professionals, but one of our consultants is a 10-year employment, labor and HR lawyer.


HR May Not Have the Time or Resources to Conduct a Thorough or Timely Workplace Investigation

Any workplace investigation needs to be conducted as soon as possible while the facts are still clear in the minds of the complainant, the respondent and potential witnesses. Additionally, in Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act has strict guidelines in terms of deadlines for the completion of a workplace harassment investigation. If a company’s in-house HR department is stretched thin, as most are these days, the company runs the risk of having their in-house HR team members conduct an incomplete investigation, as evidence may potentially be overlooked due to time constraints.


An Additional Buffer to Reduce the Amount of Information That Is Shared Internally and Externally Within the Organization

People love to gossip and company grapevines run rampant. Hiring a third-party investigator reduces the potential for office gab-fests. If the allegations are scandalous or salacious enough to garner media attention, hiring a third-party investigator can help control the flow of information and limit the number of employees with access to this very sensitive information; which could otherwise potentially be shared with media and social media outlets.


An Unbiased Thorough Investigation Can Help Avoid Complications at Trial

Conducting an unbiased thorough workplace investigation can significantly benefit a company during legal proceedings. Even if an investigation is done in a timely and comprehensive manner by an in-house HR team, it can still be subject to claims of bias, lack of impartiality or discrimination, which could compromise the integrity of the legal case. By using a third-party workplace investigator, this demonstrates that the investigation was conducted in an objective and impartial manner; the credibility of the organization can be maintained, and any negative publicity can be minimized. A third-party investigation can be instrumental in ensuring a fair and just legal process has been followed.


Demonstrates Employers’ Commitment to Rebuilding Morale and Trust

Hiring an experienced third-party investigator with the appropriate skillset and subject matter expertise demonstrates an employer’s commitment to rebuilding morale, fostering trust, and creating a safe and inclusive workplace where employees feel valued and respected. By taking complaints seriously and implementing meaningful changes, organizations can ensure that employees have a positive workplace experience.

TSERGAS Human Capital is Your Workplace Harassment Solution

TSERGAS Human Capital brings a fresh perspective, specialized expertise, and impartiality to the investigation process. Additionally, we can help reduce any perception of bias, conflicts of interest; thus, minimizing potential legal risks. Learn more about the benefits of using a third-party investigator for workplace harassment investigations here, email [email protected] or call 416.788.8069 to discuss how we can help with your workplace harassment investigation.

Effie Tsergas

Founding Principal, Managing HR Director

Effie has been a champion of positive organizational behavior for over thirty years. She founded TSERGAS Human Capital over 10 years ago. Aside from her “effervescent” personality and unwavering commitment to HR best practices, Effie is well-known for her work with some of the top legal firms in Canada. She assists clients across various industries with everything from targeted, direct recruitment, strategic human resources planning; and change management initiatives. With a wealth of experience in human resources, workplace investigations, law, public relations, and marketing communications, Effie is a seasoned strategist with expertise you can bank on.