When to investigate a matter that occurs outside of the workplace.
One of the questions that I get asked in training quite a bit is whether an event that happens outside the workplace should be investigated. This case illustrates some of the current thought in the area and confirms the basic tenet that inaction is seldom the appropriate response.
This case is straight-forward in some ways and not as much in others. Some facts were agreed upon by the parties. It is agreed that Bruce, a 54 year old Registered Nurse and married father of two began working with Jane, a 24 year old Administrative Assistant who was single. Bruce acknowledged that he began flirting with Jane in the workplace and he described the activity as mutual. This is where the stories begin to diverge.
The events that follow led Jane to file a report with the Police, Bruce’s arrest and the laying of criminal charges against him, and his unpaid suspension from the workplace. The employer chose to conduct a workplace investigation even though the majority of the events that led to the criminal charges occurred outside the workplace. Bruce was less than fully cooperative with that investigation. At the conclusion of the investigation, Bruce was terminated for cause and his Union filed a grievance on his behalf. An arbitration followed.
After reviewing the evidence in the case, the Crown Attorney declined to file criminal charges.
Jane testified that shortly after she began work Bruce started to “hit on her” and his actions made her very uncomfortable. Jane did not know what to do as she was new to the organization, relatively young and inexperienced and she felt intimidated by Bruce’s position in the organization. Bruce’s actions toward her increased and culminated with him slapping her “rear” on two separate occasions in the workplace within two days. Jane asked Bruce to stop the behaviour and he said that he would.
Bruce denied the allegation of physical contact but agreed that he was flirtatious with her while at work on a number of occasions.
Jane testified that a day later she finished work and headed to her parents’ home for the night (nobody else was home). It is undisputed that Bruce went to the house at the end of his shift. Jane said that he appeared at her door and she asked him how he knew where she was. He told her that he had looked up the address on the internet and he walked in uninvited. Jane said that Bruce grabbed her hand, placed it on his buttocks and asked “isn’t that hard”. Jane testified that Bruce proceeded to sexually assault her and when she begged for him to stop, he ignored her. Jane said that eventually Bruce left, but not before threatening that she better not tell anyone at work what had happened.
Bruce’s story of the night in question is different. He insisted that Jane called him at work and after a sexually charged conversation, invited him over. He claimed that all the activity in the home that night was consensual.
Jane told her boyfriend and her parents about what happened and they went to the Police and the incident was reported to the Employer. The employer had to decide whether to investigate themselves or whether to rely on the criminal proceedings. Ultimately, they decided that the events were tied to the workplace and that they should conduct their own investigation.
Jane cooperated fully with the internal investigation. Bruce did not and put up barriers for the employer to obtain relevant documentation from his licensing authority. During the arbitration hearing it came up that Bruce had some conditions placed against his license that were related to another case of sexual harassment in another workplace.
The Union objected to the fact that the employer conducted an investigation at all, contending that the events in question occurred outside the workplace, between two adults and that the police were looking into the events. The Union also objected to the length of time of the internal investigation. It took almost a year to go through the entire process, which included requesting information from Bruce’s licensing body, and a mediated settlement attempt.
The arbitrator ruled that Jane’s evidence regarding the night in question was to be preferred quoting cases from the Supreme Court of Canada (R. v. Gagnon  SCC, at papa 20 & F.H. v. McDougall  3 S.C.R. 41, 2008 SCC 53, at para 49) which spoke to the assessment of credibility.
With relation to the employer investigation, the Arbitrator ruled “In my view, on the basis of the evidence before me, the employer had the right, if not the obligation, to investigate the matter, and if considered necessary, to apply discipline.” The Arbitrator commented that the behaviour began in the workplace and by Bruce’s own evidence, he was attempting to start a relationship with Jane in the workplace.
In terms of the delay in the investigation, the Arbitrator found that the employer did not act in bad faith or that there was deliberate inaction.
The Arbitrator dismissed the grievance.