Shifting from Workplace Investigation to Restoration
By Blaine Donais, B.A., LL.B, LL.M., RPDR, C.Med, WFA
The world of work is rapidly evolving. When I wrote the book “Workplaces That Work” in 2005, many challenged the concept that we could work towards fairness in the workplace. But fast-forward to the year 2017 and we now have the Ontario Provincial Government sponsoring a report (The Changing Workplaces Review), that has clearly stated that “decency” is the first principle that all workplaces should aspire to.¹
Since 2005, we have had Bill 168, which required employers to take steps to minimize personal harassment in the workplace, Bill 132, which placed further obligations on the employer to investigate incidents of harassment, and the wide-spread adoption of the National Safety Standard Z1003 concerning Psychological Health and Safety in the workplace.
These various changes to legislation closely mirror our evolving societal view on what is acceptable workplace behavior and what our obligations are with regard to the protection of workplace participants from psychological harm.
The world of workplace conflict management has also had to evolve. In our review of hundreds of workplaces across Canada² we have found a rapid transformation in the choices that employers make to manage conflict in the workplace. Whereas conflict was primarily managed through “managerial decision-making” in 2005, it is increasingly being managed through the use of workplace mediation, investigation, assessment and restoration.
The most striking phenomenon in Ontario workplaces has to do with the rise of workplace investigation to deal with workplace harassment issues. Since Bill 168 there has been a steady increase in the use of external professionals to investigate these complaints. Harassment issues have become increasingly complex – requiring expertise that cannot be easily gained with internal resources. And if Bill 168 caused a sharp incline in the use of investigation, Bill 132 has intensified this phenomenon significantly. Bill 132 requires employers to use competent professionals to investigate incidents of harassment. This is no longer a discretionary matter for employers.
While investigations serve the purpose of rooting out harassment, they are also extremely disruptive and often can serve to intensify conflicts in the workplace. This has led to a growing recognition of the need to perform a “workplace restoration” once an investigation is complete in order to help workplace participants get back on track. I think it is fair to say that the two most rapidly growing workplace interventions are investigation and restoration.
Many of my colleagues have asked, “what is workplace restoration? Isn’t it just a fancy name for workplace mediation?” Those who work in the field of workplace conflict management systems analysis and design, would say that workplace restoration encompasses a broad array of possible interventions. In other words, workplace restoration is not so much an intervention as it is a process that contains a constellation of interventions. At the Workplace Fairness Institute we have developed model that closely follows our Workplace Fairness Assessment Model to help us and our clients through a workplace restoration process. This model is based on the premise different restorations may require different interventions. This is why the Assessment Phase is so important to the success of a workplace restoration. Using the principles of “client-centered process design”, we work with the client to build a process that will ensure that each workplace participant has a voice in determining the best interventions that will be used. In our experience, there is a direct relationship between involvement and voice and a successful recovery from the workplace trauma can occur as a result of harassment and investigations.
If you would like to learn how to perform effective workplace restorations and workplace assessments in general, then I invite you to join us for the week of November 11-15, 2020 at the ADR Institute of Ontario where we will be training professionals on how to use their mediation and conflict analysis skills to provide this vital and greatly sought after service.
In addition to training on workplace restorations, we are offering training on how to turn the crisis that lead to the need for a restoration into an opportunity to proactively manage conflict in the future. This will be the focus of the last two days of the training that lead to WFI certification as a “Workplace Fairness Analyst.” Since 2010, we have offered this certification to professionals across the country (and around the world). Those who become certified are able to use our many tools as an aid to help workplaces reinvent themselves in how they deal with conflict, fairness, wellness and psychological health and safety. The workplace restoration and workplace fairness assessment models are intended to cover the full range of conflict management options that are available in the workplace from proactive to reactive.
I look forward to seeing you there.
¹ The Changing Workplaces Review, https://files.ontario.ca/changing_workplace_review_english_summary.pdf
² See the WFI White Paper Concerning Conflict Management Systems in Canada (Toronto: WFI Press, 2010)