Why Investigating Anonymous Complaints Can Be Challenging

Do employers need to investigate anonymous complaints?

Well… I’ll give you my favourite non-practising lawyer answer – It depends!

In a recent LinkedIn post, we asked what people think about anonymous workplace complaints.
“They shouldn’t be treated any differently to those where the reporter/complainant is known,” said one Consultant.

Most current laws in Canada mandate that employers investigate all claims of bullying and harassment. And it certainly feels like this should be true regardless of whether the person chooses to name themselves.

However, when it comes to investigating anonymous complaints, we need to be a bit more diligent so we don’t go on a fishing expedition looking for evidence. Always remember, we have another party to consider – the RespondingParty – so we need to follow due process and be procedurally fair so as not to prejudice the parties.

So what do you do if/when you receive an Anonymous Complaint?

Check your internal policy (e.g. Respectful Workplace, Whistleblower). Does your policy contain a process for anonymous complaints? Is there a way to communicate with the Reporting Party even though they are anonymous?

Do you have a Whistleblower Program? What is the procedure? As one of my colleagues stated “a properly managed whistle-blower platform will provide a reliable and safe avenue for the Reporting Party and Investigator to communicate.”

If you have no process for dealing with anonymous complaints, your organization should. There should be specific parameters around what an anonymous complaint looks like and how they are to be handled.

Does the anonymous complaint pass the prima facie test? Meaning if the allegations are true would it breach organizational policy? If not, you should still determine whether the organization needs to handle the complaint in another way ( i.e. coaching, performance management, workplace assessment).

Does the complaint contain particulars of the allegation? This is critical as it is very difficult to fairly investigate if the allegations are vague – it should be as specific as possible making sure to answer all 5 Ws: Who, What, Where, Why, When.

Even if you don’t have a perfectly worded complaint and “regardless of who raised the complaint and whether they remain anonymous, it is the evidence that determines if something happened or not” (perfectly stated by another Colleague). And that is our job as investigators, to determine if there is sufficient evidence to substantiate a complaint, whether anonymous or not.

At the end of the day, employers should address anonymous complaints and determine how they are to be handled. But first, make sure your policy is crystal clear – it will make things much easier for everyone (named or otherwise) down the road.
If you ever find yourself in a challenging workplace scenario and need immediate resources, tips, or an experienced external workplace investigator, do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected].

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