Duty to Investigate (Human Rights)

From Riverview Legal Services


Segal v. Toronto (City), 2011 HRTO 728 (CanLII)

[191] It is well-established in the Tribunal’s jurisprudence that the Code imposes a duty on organizations to investigate a complaint of discrimination, and that a failure to investigate can attract liability, even if the Tribunal ultimately dismisses the underlying allegations of discrimination. See, for example, Nelson v. Lakehead University, 2008 HRTO 41 (CanLII).

[192] The rationale underlying the duty to investigate is to ensure that the rights under the Code are meaningful. The Tribunal explained this rationale in Laskowska v. Marineland, 2005 HRTO 30 (CanLII), at para. 53:

It would make the protection under subsection 5(1) to a discrimination-free work environment a hollow one if an employer could sit idly when a complaint of discrimination was made and not have to investigate it. If that were so, how could it determine if a discriminatory act occurred or a poisoned work environment existed? The duty to investigate is a “means” by which the employer ensures that it is achieving the Code-mandated “ends” of operating in a discrimination-free environment and providing its employees with a safe work environment.

[193] In Laskowska, the Tribunal also set out at paras. 59-60 the relevant criteria for assessing the reasonableness of an investigation: The six criteria of corporate “reasonableness” in Wall have been adopted in previous decisions of the Board of Inquiry. I adopt a conflated version of them. The criteria are:

(1) Awareness of issues of discrimination/harassment, Policy, Complaint Mechanism and Training: Was there an awareness of issues of discrimination and harassment in the workplace at the time of the incident? Was there a suitable anti-discrimination/harassment policy? Was there a proper complaint mechanism in place? Was adequate training given to management and employees;
(2) Post-Complaint: Seriousness, Promptness, Taking Care of its Employee, Investigation and Action: Once an internal complaint was made, did the employer treat it seriously? Did it deal with the matter promptly and sensitively? Did it reasonably investigate and act; and
(3) Resolution of the Complaint (including providing the Complainant with a Healthy Work Environment) and Communication: Did the employer provide a reasonable resolution in the circumstances? If the complainant chose to return to work, could the employer provide her/him with a healthy, discrimination-free work environment? Did it communicate its findings and actions to the complainant?

While the above three elements are of a general nature, their application must retain some flexibility to take into account the unique facts of each case. The standard is one of reasonableness, not correctness or perfection. There may have been several options – all reasonable – open to the employer. The employer need not satisfy each element in every case in order to be judged to have acted reasonably, although that would be the exception rather than the norm. One must look at each element individually and then in the aggregate before passing judgment on whether the employer acted reasonably.