When a formal or informal complaint is made by an employee, the employer must take immediate action to protect the involved parties, stop the alleged conflict and begin investigations. Employers have a legal obligation to promptly investigate complaints. These include safety and ethical issues, retaliation, discrimination and harassment.
Any appropriate corrective action should be taken to ensure illegal behaviours and actions cease immediately. An investigation will yield the best evidence and information and enhance the employer’s credibility.
The following are nine steps in the workplace harassment investigation procedure:
1. Ensure Confidentiality
As the employer, you must ensure the confidentiality of the employee claims as much as possible. At the same time, you are required to conduct an effective and prompt investigation. Therefore, keeping information like records and interviews of the initial complaint completely confidential may not always be possible.
Explain to the individuals involved in your investigation, including the complaining party, that the information collected will remain confidential, but only to the extent that allows for a thorough investigation. Never promise complete confidentiality to the parties involved in the investigation.
2. Offer Interim Protection
In the workplace harassment investigation procedure, you may need to take immediate action to protect the alleged victim or the accuser. Separating the accused from the alleged victim may be necessary to prevent retaliation or continued harassment. A leave of absence, transfer or schedule change may be appropriate depending on the situation.
However, complainants shouldn’t be involuntarily burdened or transferred. Such actions may be deemed retaliatory. The accuser and the employer must work together to come up with an amenable solution.
3. Choose the Investigator
An appropriate investigator should have the ability to investigate objectively. They should have no stake in the outcome. These private investigators must having strong interpersonal skills, prior investigative knowledge, attention to detail and the right temperament to conduct efficient interviews.
In addition, they must also possess a thorough knowledge of employment laws. In most cases, an employer contracts experienced in-house or outside legal counsel. They may also use internal security personnel, HR professionals, or a third-party investigator.
4. Create a Plan
To properly execute an investigation, take some time to come up with a plan. The plan should outline the issue, a witness list, and sources for evidence and information.
It should also feature interview questions that are designed to elicit crucial details and information and a process for retaining documentation (e.g. emails and interview notes), which might be used as evidence.
5. Develop Interview Questions
Generally, questions are developed ahead of time, mainly during the planning stage. However, additional questions are added throughout the corporate investigation process as more information and evidence is shared.
Great questions are designed to draw out the necessary facts without leading on the interviewee. They should be open-ended to elicit all the information you need.
6. Conduct Interviews
At this point, interviews can be conducted. All parties should be informed by the investigator of the need to conduct an investigation and explain how the investigation process will be carried out. The investigator should be impartial and objective. The goal should be to collect and consider relevant facts. The investigation mustn’t be pushed in any particular direction.
The investigator should not offer any opinion. Objectivity must be observed with every interview. They should look for inconsistencies, take notes and seek opportunities to gather more evidence and potential witnesses.
Ask the employees to write down an account of the incident as this may help in identifying inconsistencies. An investigator must also determine an employee’s credibility. It’s important to note for the employees involved, the issue is personal.
Given the emotional and private nature of the issue, their accounts of what happened might be shadowed by personal interests. An investigator should avoid harsh interrogation tactics, which could lead to charges such as coerced confessions.
7. Make a Decision
Throughout the investigation, avoid jumping to conclusions before gathering all the facts. Once the interviews are completed, other necessary procedures such as evidence collection should be completed. Once credibility issues are resolved, the investigator will assess all the information and make a formal recommendation.
The member of management or investigator, and the legal counsel, should determine if any employment actions are warranted according to the investigative report. The employer must consider all the parties involved and the organizational processes in the final determination.
8. Closure of Investigation
Once the final decision is made, the employer must notify both the accused and the complaining employee of the outcome. It’s critical to inform the complainant that the organization took their complaint seriously and that appropriate action was taken. The organization must also ensure the complainant agrees that they were understood and heard, even if the results don’t meet their expectations. After the investigation is complete, the employer should follow-up with the complainant to make sure they are comfortable. All parties should be asked to maintain confidentiality as appropriate.
9. Develop Written Summary Investigation Results
The report should detail the issues or the incident under investigation, employer guidelines and policies and how they apply to the investigation, the parties concerned, and key factual and credibility findings. It should have specific conclusions, the parties involved in making the final decision, issues that were not resolved and why, and the employer actions taken. The goal is to make sure that if a government agency, jury or court were to review it, the conclusion would be that the employer handled the situation seriously and responded appropriately.
An investigation allows your organization to identify and resolve internal issues before they become widespread.