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  • Writer's pictureJeff Tudhope

Victoria Police Chief Harassment Investigation

On December 18, The Province reported that Victoria, B.C. Police Chief Frank Elsner has been placed on a paid leave pending an investigation into allegations of workplace harassment.

Whenever a high-profile individual is investigated, attention from the media is no surprise. However, from a human resources perspective, it is not the individual being investigated that makes this matter especially interesting.

Firstly, an investigation into the Chief's conduct was already conducted between August and November of this year, but upon review of the investigation, a determination was made that the first investigation did not afford the parties sufficient fairness, and now a second investigation has been ordered.

So, we have a high ranking public servant under investigation and receiving pay, but not at work. The conduct for which he is under investigation relates to comments allegedly made on social media to the wife of a subordinate officer, and an allegation of workplace harassment. The particulars of the comments/harassment were not reported.

Sometimes people question why an employee, particularly one who is publicly employed, can't stay at work while under investigation and why they get paid if they are removed from the workplace pending an investigation. There are two primary reasons this is done: risk mitigation, and fairness.

When a serious allegation is made, it is an emloyer's obligation to protect its employees and mitigate the risk of recurrence or retaliation. To accomplish this, employees may be separated or the person accused of misconduct might be removed from work, with pay, while the investigation is ongoing.

Fairness refers to the requirement for the people involved in the investigation to be given an opportunity to thoroughly give their side of the story, and to feel comfortable speaking freely. This requirement applies to the person or people filing the complaint, the person or people accused, and any witnesses who might be involved. If witnesses or complainants are intimidated by the prospect of having to go back to work with a respondent immediately after an investgation meeting, they may not feel comfortable providing the best information possible to the investigator. This could lead to inaccurate or incomplete findings.

Another consideration which may have applied in this situation is the high profile position of the Police Chief, which could be undermined by outstanding allegations and inhibit his ability to be effecive in his role. To avoid a breakdown in operational effectiveness, it may have been necessary to replace the Chief until the investigation is complete.

While not necessarily the preference of the taxpayer, it is sometimes required for a person accused of workplace misconduct to be removed from the workplace with pay while the investigation is continuing.

Also of interest is the report that the Chief is being investigation for comments made on social media. The allegation is workplace harassment is a given for follow-up, but social media can be a difficult topic when it comes to workplace conduct. There are often misconceptions that activity on personal social media accounts cannot result in conduct concerns at work. However, there are several ways that an employee can be held accountable at work for activity on personal social media accounts. A few examples are as follows: social media activity on personal time where the account identifies the employer, activity during on work time on a personal device, activity during personal time on an employer-owned device.

The above examples are only a few ways that social media and the workplace can overlap. The specific circumstances which led to Chief Elsner responding to a social media related allegation has not yet been reported.

The article in The Province provides several examples of why it is important to have an experienced investigator who will apply a fair and thorough process when conducting investigations in the workplace.

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