Tribunal Confirms Requirement to Appoint Independent Investigator in Workplace Violence Complaints

A federal employer is required to appoint a competent person to investigate a workplace violence complaint, even if it believes the allegations in the complaint do not relate to or amount to workplace violence, according to a recent decision the Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal of Canada.

In this case, the worker had suffered through an accommodation process that he felt was inadequate. He believed that representatives of the employer, the Canada Food Inspection Agency, were deliberately holding up the process and interfering with accommodations granted to him in order to cause him harm. He also made general claims about bullying and harassment and alleged that employer representatives had raised their voices with him.

After meeting with the worker, the employer concluded that his complaint was not actually about workplace violence and decided not to appoint a competent person. Before the Tribunal, it argued that the employer could exercise a screening function and did not have to appoint an independent investigator to look into workplace violence claims that it felt were obviously unsupportable.

The Tribunal rejected this argument and confirmed that the employer’s role in a workplace violence process is limited to trying to facilitate a resolution of the complaint. Where that is not possible, the appointment of a competent person is required unless it is plain and obvious on the face of the complaint that it does not relate to workplace violence.

In the case before it, the Tribunal noted that it was enough that the worker’s complaints themselves explicitly referred to “workplace violence”. This language made it clear that the complaints “related to” workplace violence. The Tribunal also concluded that it was not plain and obvious that no finding of violence could ever be made if the worker’s allegations were investigated. The employer was therefore required to appoint an investigator.

This decision is further confirmation that the employer’s role in a workplace violence complaint is limited to attempting to facilitate resolution. The employer does not have any screening function and cannot examine the factual allegations in the complaint to determine if they can be proven. If the complaint cannot be resolved at an early stage, a competent, independent investigator must be appointed.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada was represented by Jessica Greenwood, with assistance from Zachary Rodgers.