Lauren Bernardi sat down with the HRPA to talk about her experience in workplace investigations. Bernardi is the founder of Bernardi Human Resources Law LLP and developed  HRPA’s Workplace Investigations Training and Certificate Program.

By HRPA Staff

Lauren Bernardi is on a mission.

“Our goal is to transform workplaces, so that people and organizations can achieve their full potential.”

Bernardi has been transforming workplaces for over 25 years by investigating claims of sexual assault, sexual harassment, racial discrimination and workplace bullying. Her firm, Bernardi Human Resources Law LLP, works with employers in both the public and private sectors, and sometimes find themselves at the centre of high-profile investigations. They support their investigation work with proactive and practical training programs that drive positive behavioural change.

Regardless of the scope of the work, her approach is consistent: finding out what’s really going on and charting a better path.

“In the early days of doing this work it appeared that some organizations worried more about corporate liability than affecting lasting change. I think that’s happening less now with more organizations truly interested in creating psychologically safe workplaces that are free of harassment and discrimination,” she adds, pointing to the influences of the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, and an increase in mental health awareness

“I think there’s been a shift realizing we need to get to the truth, however hard that truth may be to hear. More organizations are opening themselves up to hard truths, so that they walk down a path of recovery.”

Bernardi herself has spent over two decades conducting investigations. They can be difficult, she said, noting the strain it can put on an organization and every person involved.

“There’s a lot at stake for both complainants and respondents. It’s very difficult for most complainants to come forward, the repercussions can be enormous. They can be ostracized or worried about job loss. It’s traumatic for them. Respondents are worried nobody is going to believe them and they’re going to get fired. That means it is crucial for us to be thorough and careful so that we get to the truth of the matter.”

However, she is obligated to point out that the cost of either executing investigations incorrectly or not doing them at all can result in financial harm to the company.

“If you conduct an investigation improperly there could be litigation, which can be a costly public relations nightmare, not to mention the harm it causes to the entire workplace.”

For more than a decade, Bernardi has been helping HRPA members avoid the costs of improper investigations, by sharing her knowledge and skills. She is responsible for developing and co-teaching HRPA’s Workplace Investigations Training and Certificate Program, one of the first and most recognized programs of its kind in Canada.

“We’ve been at the forefront of workplace harassment issues since 1995, from the beginning from sexual harassment to workplace bullying to workplace mental health to systemic discrimination.”

Bernardi and HRPA recognized the HR learning gap around workplace investigations and worked to fill it. “There really wasn’t any other training programs available when we started this program,” she said. “It was an opportunity to get HR professionals practical skills they weren’t getting elsewhere.”

From taking notes, to taking a statement, and protecting confidentiality, the course provides hands-on skills on all core elements of performing an investigation, including writing the final report and documenting findings.

 “It’s practical, skill-based and fun,” she explained, then added, “It’s very engaging. The conversations are lively, and we inject a bit of humour in what we do. We adhere to the principles of adult learning which is really learning by doing. I think the interaction is what makes it different.”

The 8-module course is currently offered monthly, next beginning August 17. Like other Certificates and Workshops that HRPA offers, it has been adapted for an online audience with overwhelmingly positive reviews.

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