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Inside HR – Challenges with Internal Workplace Investigations

Workplace InvestigationsWhen employers are faced with allegations of employee misconduct, workplace investigations offer a balanced approach for companies to make informed people decisions. This is especially critical in cases where there is a potential for termination and litigation risk is high.


Is your company diligent in conducting proper workplace investigations?

Are relevant policies/processes in place as required by the Human Rights Code and Bill 168?

If not, you can face severe consequences as an employer, as experienced by both CBC and Walmart Canada (Boucher v Walmart Canada-ONCA 2014) of late.

Reflecting on my 16 years of HR industry experience gained from some of the largest companies nationally and internationally, investigating complaints, grievances and employee misconduct was pretty much a daily affair.

With an insider point of view, I’ve gained invaluable learnings around the challenges in conducting internal workplace investigations and the inherent risks involved for employers to take note.

Here are the top 8 reasons why I found in-house investigations to be problematic despite an employer’s best efforts.

Risk #1: Internal politics skewing outcome of investigation

Risk #2: Bias

Risk #3: Lack of time to effectively plan and conduct a thorough investigation

Risk #4: Company policies that allow anonymity of complainants

Risk #5: Lack of transparency

Risk #6: Lack of training

Risk #7: Not conducting interviews in person

Risk #8: Poor documentation and retention procedures

For this post, I will focus on Risks #1 and #2.

Risk #1: Internal politics skewing outcome of investigation

This is perhaps the biggest pitfall concerning internal workplace investigations. HR is caught between a rock and a hard place when internal politics and power imbalances are at play.

A conflict of interest may exist – either in dealing with complaints against management who ranks higher than the person investigating or when HR and senior management have differing views on the approach and the seriousness of a complaint, objectivity can be compromised.

Sometimes, doing the right thing may not be supported by those in power like in Jian Ghomeshi’s case. Such political pressures can either derail efforts to investigate or effectively skew the results of an internal investigation altogether. This tendency can then render the entire investigation flawed exposing the employer to significant liabilities.

Risk #2: Bias

By human nature, we often pass judgement about an investigation even before it begins.   This is even more prominent in companies where everyone knows each other. Bias can quickly develop that may affect the outcome of the investigation based on the parties’ reputation (i.e. a “star performer” or a “trouble-maker”).

The tolerance for harassing behavior can differ from one company or industry to another as well. For instance, what is considered inappropriate in professional workplaces may be accepted as the norm in the construction industry that is primarily male dominated.   The threshold for sounding any alarm bells can then vary.

Knowing this, it makes it very difficult for HR to conduct internal investigations with complete neutrality. This is especially problematic when HR works with any of the parties involved as well.

In CBC’s case, I believe both of these influences played a significant role in causing senior management to turn a blind eye on all the toxic behavior displayed by their star employee – Jian Ghomeshi.   By management failing to address for so many years, a culture of fear, disrespect and mistrust was created. This should serve as a cautionary tale for other employers of what not to do as it relates to workplace harassment.

Tips for Employers:


  • Remove organizational barriers (i.e. examine and adjust reporting structures) that can give rise to a conflict of interest for HR/investigator
  • Hiring an independent workplace investigator who is competent and perceived by all parties to be neutral can effectively mitigate both of these risks


Please visit in June for the continuation of this post.

Belle Yuan is the founder of Strategywise HR. She is a Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL) with a wealth of knowledge gained from over 16 years of corporate HR experience in employee and labour relations. Her passion lies in helping employers limit legal liabilities through strategic thinking and the development of proactive HR solutions that drive operational success. You can reach Belle at:


  1. Great piece!
    And so true.
    #1 is such a nightmare and almost always present. The untouchables (who get away with murder because they are perceived as rain makers) make it very difficult and oftentimes leave HR in a bad spot when different rules apply to different people.

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