Honesty in the investigation

Employees need to understand that this is an opportunity to salvage the relationship

Stuart Rudner

By Stuart Rudner 

Employees who are being investigated for misconduct need to understand that lying will only hurt their cause and make it more likely they will be dismissed. In many cases, the employee's honesty, or lack thereof, will make the difference between just cause for dismissal and some lesser penalty.

On many occasions, I have written about the law of summary dismissal, and our courts have been clear in saying any misconduct is not to be considered in isolation, but to be assessed in the context of all relevant circumstances. This contextual approach requires that employers consider factors such as the employee’s length of service, prior disciplinary history, the nature of her position within the organization, and her response when confronted with the allegation.

In the course of drafting my textbook, You're Fired! Just Cause for Dismissal in Canada, as well as preparing the bi-annual updates, I have reviewed thousands of cases where courts and arbitrators have assessed whether an individual deserved to be fired. One observation I have made is the employee's response when confronted has become a critical factor. All else being equal, it is far more likely an employee who is honest about the misconduct and offers some indication of mitigating factors will get a second chance, whereas an employee who lies about his misconduct and makes efforts to cover it up only compounds his mistake.

Ultimately, in assessing whether just cause for dismissal exists, employers, courts and arbitrators are considering whether the employment relationship has been damaged beyond repair. Trust is a fundamental factor in this assessment, and an employee who is dishonest in the course of an investigation will provide further evidence she is untrustworthy and the employer should not be expected to continue to employ her.

Employees need to understand that when they are confronted with allegations of misconduct, that is their opportunity to salvage the relationship. Of course, if they are not guilty, they should not say otherwise. However, if they are, or if there is even some truth to the allegation, they will be far better off if they are honest and provide an explanation for their conduct, rather than deny it altogether.

By way of example, the employee might mention relevant mitigating factors, such as ongoing family or marital problems, addiction, physical or psychological illness, or anything else that caused him to behave the way he did. It should go without saying they should not manufacture such excuses, but should mention them if they exist.

Unfortunately, it is remarkable how often individuals engage in one uncharacteristic instance of misconduct, and then miss the chance to get the employment relationship back on track by responding dishonestly when confronted, destroying any remaining trust that the employer may have had in them.

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