Nunatsiaq Online
COMMENTARY: Nunavut January 17, 2017 - 2:30 pm

Legal Ease, Jan. 17

Help! A fact-finding meeting?

JAMES MORTON

I frequently get calls from people who are going into a fact-finding meeting about a complaint made against them at work.

What should you do if you are facing this type of a meeting?

First, remember that investigating allegations of bad behaviour at work is not necessarily a “witch-hunt.”

Employers have a duty to make sure that everything is properly done and allegations must be investigated. That said, it would be foolish to go into a meeting without being ready.

Here are some tips for how to approach a fact-finding or potential disciplinary meeting:

1. Confirm the meeting details
 
What is the precise reason for the meeting? You are entitled to know, in reasonable detail, what the meeting is about.

If you are not given those details when the meeting is scheduled you are perfectly entitled to say “I need more details to prepare so I can respond properly. Why is the meeting being called and what will be discussed?”

If you need more time to prepare for the meeting, say so and ask for the meeting to be put back a few days. 
 
Beyond knowing what the meeting is about, make sure you know where and when the meeting is to be held.

Ask who will be there. If you are unionized can you bring a union representative? Can you bring a lawyer? Find out what is expected to happen.

2. Be professional
 
Get to the meeting on time and dress appropriately. The meeting is a serious matter and you must act to show you understand it is serious.
 
3. Take notes
 
During the meeting, take notes. Note down who is there and what is being discussed. A fact-finding meeting is a serious matter and there is nothing wrong with taking some notes so you can follow up later.

If your employer is uncomfortable with you taking notes just point out you are very concerned about what is happening and you want to be sure you are clear about everything.
 
4. Listen and respond
 
Answer the questions raised, but if something comes up that was not raised before, take your time.

If you need more time, say that this was not what the meeting was supposed to be about and you need time to think back before responding. It is better to be right than to be fast. 
 
5. If criminal allegations are made, speak to a lawyer
 
Sometimes fact-finding is about potential criminal matters. There may be an allegation of fraud or sexual abuse.

If that is the case be very, very, very careful!

If criminal charges are eventually laid, anything you say may well be used against you in criminal court. Talk to a lawyer and make sure you understand your rights.

If you are in any doubt at all, say, “this is a very serious allegation and I do not think I should say anything without a lawyer.”

It’s better to lose your job than to risk a vacation at Baffin Correctional Centre!

6. Follow up afterwards
 
At the end of the meeting, talk about what happened and what the next steps will be. Send a follow up letter or memorandum saying what happened and what you understand will happen next.
 
7. Keep a written record of everything
 
Confirm everything back by email and print copies of the emails for your records.  If you are given any documents to look at, ask for copies and keep the copies in your records—and keep the records at home where it is safe.

But make sure you do not breach any confidentiality so make sure the emails and other records are locked away from prying eyes. 
 
Most of the time fact-finding meetings serve to clear the air and everyone deals with an issue and moves on. That said, it is best to be careful and not allow yourself to be taken advantage of!

James Morton is a lawyer practicing in Nunavut with offices in Iqaluit. The comments here are intended as general legal information and not as specific legal advice.

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