Many employees are initially surprised when approached by their employer about allegations made against them by co-workers. The nature of these allegations can vary widely in seriousness, but any employee whose conduct is being investigated would be wise to take every complaint seriously. The process however, is often stressful and unfamiliar.
Here are 5 essential 'must-do's' for employees responding to allegations in a unionized workplace:
1. Get details about the process: When responding to allegations in the workplace, it is essential that the investigation process is set up to respect your rights as an employee and to ensure that the process is fair. Get an understanding of all steps, from start to finish. Discuss the steps and process with your union rep, and make sure to cooperate with your union, to aid them in representing you. Be sure to be provided with the allegations at the outset (before your interview). Also, request to see the details of co-workers' statements (and any other evidence), and ask for an opportunity to respond to that evidence. A proper workplace investigation must give you and the union an opportunity to meaningfully participate.
2. Get particular about the allegations: It is important that you know that allegations made against you in order to properly respond and facilitate the investigation. It is important to understand the nature of the complaint so that you can also assess its seriousness, including the possible ramifications that could flow from the investigation. Get details about any potential discipline, up to and including dismissal, that your employer is considering if it makes findings against you.
3. Be honest! It is essential that you are completely honest with your union reps and during the investigation. Do not mislead, lie or tell half-truths. Even when you have engaged in some (or all) of the wrongdoing being investigated, it is key that you are honest during the investigation. The more upfront you are with your union, the better they will be able to represent you. It will be hard for the union to have the best strategy if they are blindsided by things in the midst of the investigation. Tell your union rep the whole story, and work with them to navigate the investigation process. Dishonesty during an investigation will result in a breach of trust. It can result in your summary firing, even where the cause of the investigation would otherwise not justify it.
4. Be proactive and cooperative: By taking a helpful tone in the investigation, you are (and will be seen to be) facilitating the investigation process. Do not use the process as a means to personally attack the complainant. Address the allegations in a direct, clear and focused manner. Try to use the process as a way to explore mutually beneficial solutions to resolve the workplace issue.
Even where the results of the investigation lead to a result that the accusations are unfounded, this can lead to an awkward and difficult workplace when you return. Work with your union and your employer to find proactive solutions that will make the integration back into the workforce as smooth as possible for you.
5. Engage your union. Be sure to engage with your union representation as soon as possible. Your union rep will likely have experience with workplace investigations, and will be able to provide you with guidance and advice that will help you in the process. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, including any discipline, there may also be grievance rights that your union may pursue.