If a workplace complaint is made against you, for harassment for example, and you are suspended by your employer while it conducts an internal investigation, it is very unlikely that the Court will intervene to reverse your suspension before the investigation is properly completed.

Since employer’s are required by law to investigate a workplace harassment complaint, the Court confers fairly broad latitude and flexibility to the employer to do so. Provided the employer conducts a reasonable investigation, including any necessary procedural steps to achieve confidentiality and fairness, the Court is very unlikely to interfere with an employer’s decision to suspend any employee for the purpose of conducting, and during, the investigation. The employer may have to justify the decision, if challenged, but if reasonable justification is proffered, the Court is unlikely to intervene.

If an employer is conducting a workplace investigation reasonably, the employer’s duty to do so will also outweigh any potential damage to the reputation of any person involved in the investigation, including the alleged harasser. The Court’s view is that an employee’s reputation would not be impugned if the employee is exonerated by the investigation. Rather, if the employee’s reputation is damaged, it is because of his or her misconduct in the workplace, rather than the investigation conducted by the employer. Accordingly, the Court is very likely to prefer the investigation over a party’s claim that the fact of the investigation itself may harm his or her reputation.

In an Ontario case involving a doctor at a major Toronto hospital, against whom harassment issues were raised in the workplace, the doctor was partially suspended by the hospital during its internal investigation. The doctor sought an injunction that the employer reinstate him immediately. The Court rejected the doctor’s request and, in doing so, expressed: “….the Hospital is obliged to ensure that its employees can work together in the most harmonious environment possible. Disruption and conflict amongst its employees can only adversely affect the care of patients. Any internal investigation into bullying and harassment, once those allegations are raised, is not only desirable, but in many senses, obligatory.”

Therefore, if you are the target of a harassment complaint in your workplace, the best approach is likely to try to negotiate with the employer to minimize potential harm to your reputation, such as certain steps to ensure confidentiality and fairness, rather than seek judicial intervention to try to stop the investigation. If you are suspended during the investigation, it is unlikely the Court will help you, if the employer’s decision to suspend you was reasonable in the circumstances.

The Cases:

Dr. Agostino Pierro v. The Hospital for Sick Children, 2016 ONSC 2987 (CanLII)

Barrick v. Humane Society Yukon, 2018 YKSC 51 (CanLII)

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