Across the globe, as people continue to work from home, there is a very good chance you have employees who are experiencing, at the hands of their co-workers, personal and sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination, and retaliation. And to complicate matters, while economies are starting to open back up, it is expected that for many organizations, remote work may be here to stay. So, while you may have great in-office processes, can you manage complaint resolution remotely?

No one could have predicted the sudden and unexpected impacts of COVID-19. Still, while many aspects of our work have changed, employers’ legal obligations remain the same: to maintain a safe and healthy work environment under their own policies, the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act, Alberta Human Rights legislation, and Worker’s Compensation rules.

Remote work presents a unique set of challenges, especially when it comes to conducting investigations, but an investigation conducted remotely must, like any sound workplace investigation, be built on these four pillars:

  1. Neutrality
  2. Fairness
  3. Thoroughness
  4. Timeliness

When handled with extra caution and care, remote investigations can prevent real harm to employees and employers alike.

Here are four key recommendations to ensure your employees are protected while working remotely.

1. Set Up a Channel to Handle Employee Complaints

Just because employees aren’t working in the same physical space doesn’t mean misconduct stops. In our current climate, stress, anxiety, emotions, and irritability are all greatly heightened, which may exacerbate inappropriate behaviours, leaving isolated employees feeling more vulnerable than ever.

In addition, when you’re managing a remote team it can be more challenging to detect inappropriate behaviour, but it can be hiding in plain sight over video chat, email exchanges, text messages or other virtual communication channels.

Just like in the office, you should have a formal mechanism for employees to report these kinds of problems. Whether it is a designated HR person or an external helpline, setting up a channel for complaints is critical to making your employees feel safe speaking up. One way to ensure that everyone is aware of your remote and in-person reporting practices is to send a company-wide reminder to all staff.

2. Be Prepared to Act Fast

Addressing workplace harassment is a legal obligation, not a choice. If you receive a complaint, you must determine the severity of the incident, review policies, agreements, and laws, and create an investigative strategy and structure…and fast!

When working remotely, the same rules apply. Prompt action is still required. Failing to act quickly can expose your employees to further harm and your business to unnecessary liability. Now is the time to consider how you will fulfil your obligations to conduct investigations in these unusual circumstances.

3. Utilize Technology

When conducting investigations, face-to-face interviews are typically preferred to ensure confidentiality and allow for interactions that build trust and rapport. However, in remote settings, when in-person meetings are not possible, technology offers many excellent alternatives, such as Skype, ZOOM, Teams, FaceTime, and other platforms.

Understanding that body language speaks volumes, we recommend utilizing video conferencing whenever possible and all parties should be provided assistance to set up adequate tools and technology. However, if all else fails, an old-fashioned phone call is a suitable option.

4. Secure Data and Preserve Confidentiality

Security and confidentiality concerns are heightened when conducting a remote investigation. The video tools used must be password-protected or better yet encrypted, recordings must be restricted, and investigators must ensure that meetings are private away from outside parties like spouses or children. The process must also include a safe and secure method for collecting, sharing, and disclosing process documents and information related to the investigation.

The move to remote work requires a more technology-driven approach to managing investigations, but employer obligations remain the same. As we navigate the new normal, Cenera’s expert Workplace Investigators are well-prepared to support employers by managing external helplines, and conducting fair and timely third-party investigations – in all kinds of working conditions. Contact us today to learn more.

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