The Investigator’s Edge: The Hidden Benefits of External Workplace Investigations

When organizations face workplace issues or allegations of misconduct, they often grapple with the decision of whether to conduct an internal investigation or hire an external workplace investigator. While internal investigations may seem more cost-effective and less intrusive, organizations should carefully consider the risks involved, as the problems that may arise from an improper internal investigation can quickly outpace any perceived near-term benefits. In this article, we will explore the top five reasons why organizations may decide to hire an external
workplace investigator.

  1. Expertise and Competence ​
    A crucial factor in any investigation is the competence and proficiency of the appointed investigator. Investigating allegations of misconduct is a complex endeavor that requires specialized skills and experience. By opting for an external investigator, organizations can ensure that the investigation is conducted by someone who is qualified, experienced, and trained in navigating the sensitivities and complexities of such investigations. This expertise helps to ensure a thorough and fair investigation, while maintaining the confidentiality of all parties involved.
  2. Impartiality and Fairness​
    Impartiality is the cornerstone of an effective investigation. Maintaining impartiality and fairness throughout the investigation process is crucial to ensure that all parties involved accept and abide by the recommendations. External investigators are often perceived as more neutral than internal investigators, as they do not have pre-existing relationships or biases that could influence the outcome. This perception of impartiality helps to safeguard the investigation process against allegations of procedural unfairness and ensures that all parties feel they have been treated fairly.
  3. Time Efficiency
    Promptly initiating and completing an investigation is essential to prevent the loss of crucial evidence and to demonstrate due diligence. Internal investigators often have competing priorities and may not be able to dedicate the necessary time to the investigation. Hiring an external investigator allows organizations to have a dedicated professional who can focus solely on the investigation, minimizing disruptions to day-to-day operations and ensuring a timely and efficient investigation process.
  4. Rebuilding Trust and Morale​
    Allegations of misconduct can significantly impact workplace morale and trust. ​ By engaging an external investigator, organizations demonstrate their commitment to addressing such issues seriously and impartially. This, in turn, may inspire employee confidence and help rebuild trust within the organization. Hiring an external investigator sends a clear message that the organization values its employees’ well-being and is dedicated to maintaining a positive and safe work environment. In turn, employees are more likely to feel comfortable reporting incidents when they believe their concerns will be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. ​
  5. Legal Scrutiny and Risk Mitigation
    Serious allegations or high-stakes situations, such as those involving senior leadership or potential legal and media scrutiny, warrant the involvement of an external investigator. External investigators with expertise in employment law can help organizations navigate legal complexities and ensure compliance with relevant regulations. Further, a well-conducted investigation by a qualified investigator can, in many cases, serve as a shield against potential litigation, as adjudicators often rely on the findings of an external investigator. Conversely, mishandling investigations may expose organizations to legal liabilities and reputational damage. External investigators, with their expertise and independence, can conduct investigations that withstand intense legal scrutiny and provide organizations with a shield against potential litigation.

    ​A 2014 Ontario case involving Wal-Mart Canada Corp perfectly illustrates the importance of conducting proper workplace investigations, and the costly ramifications of failing to do so.

    Despite Wal-Mart conducting their own internal investigation and finding the employee’s complaints unsubstantiated, the employee filed a claim and was awarded damages in the amount of $1,450,00 by Ontario’s Superior Court. ​ Although the award was later reduced by the Ontario Court of Appeal, it is evident that improper internal investigations may lead to costly damages and unintended legal consequences for employers.

Employers have a duty to address workplace disputes, and while some can be resolved internally, more serious issues require the expertise of an external investigator. While internal investigations may seem like a convenient option, organizations should carefully consider the hidden benefits of hiring an external workplace investigator. The stakes are frequently high, and unintended costs resulting from an improper investigation, such as legal disputes, low morale, and reputational damage can be mitigated by retaining an external investigator.

1 Boucher v. Wal-Mart Canada Corp., 2014 ONCA 419.

The expertise, impartiality, time efficiency, trust-building, and risk mitigation offered by external investigators make them a valuable resource in conducting fair, thorough, and legally defensible workplace investigations. By prioritizing the integrity of the investigation process, organizations can foster a safe and respectful work environment while minimizing potential legal and reputational risks.

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