In an article for our June newsletter, School Investigation Has Negative Impact on College Decision, we covered a decision of the Ontario College of Teachers which highlighted the need to conduct an appropriate, thorough investigation before proceeding with a decision to discipline an employee.
The need for appropriate investigations has been highlighted again in a recent decision of the Alberta Court of Appeal in which an employer was required to pay 24 months pay in lieu of notice for an employee’s wrongful termination and an additional $35,000.00 in punitive damages as a result of the inappropriate investigation which led to the wrongful dismissal of the employee. A significant sum for any school board!
Investigations that might lead to serious consequences such as significant employee or student discipline or employee termination or student expulsion should be conducted by administrators who have had training and experience conducting investigations. The failure to do so can have significant consequences, including significant legal expenses and Orders for damages.
Where matters are complicated and many witnesses might need to be interviewed, detailed investigation plans created in advance and followed during the investigation can assist to ensure that all of the issues have been covered in a fair manner. In many instances where investigations have been found to be insufficient, the administrator conducting the investigation has had little experience and or time to be thorough and to ensure that all of the issues have been fairly addressed. It is also important that less experienced administrators can consult with superiors and review the inquiries made and the evidence collected.
For the most serious issues, school boards should consider engaging external investigators with experience in the specific area of issue.
For more detail regarding the Alberta Court of Appeal decision please see Stuart E. Rudner’s article in the July issue of the Miller Thomson Charities and Not-for-Profit Newsletter, attached.