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Are Workplace Harassment Investigations Different From Other Investigations?

Are Workplace Harassment Investigations Different From Other Investigations?

While every workplace investigation follows the same basic steps, harassment sometimes requires a more sensitive approach.

Investigating a workplace harassment or discrimination issue is not substantially different from investigating any other workplace complaint, but it is especially important in today’s “me too” climate to maintain certain standards.

Every company, no matter how big or small, should have a written workplace harassment policy in their code of conduct and it should be included in their workplace policy handbook. This policy should be clear on what constitutes various forms of harassment and the possible punishments for any offence. It is also important to distribute this policy to every employee, including all management personnel. However, even with a strong written policy, incidents of harassment can occur and it is imperative that any complaint be fully investigated.

Is it harassment? Narrow it down with the cheat sheet on 11 Types of Harassment.

Investigate Immediately

First and foremost, investigate all complaints immediately. Even if a complaint seems silly, you must thoroughly investigate it. Your prompt response to the complaint can go a long way towards preventing a more serious issue or a lawsuit. Also, make sure the complainant is not in a position to be subject to further harassment or discrimination.

Make sure all managers and supervisors are trained in workplace harassment and discrimination issues. Also have in place a mechanism for reporting any harassment issues. This often means having a system for reporting anonymously.

Choose the Investigator Wisely

It is also important that the manager not try to do the investigation themselves. There needs to be a person at the company whose job it is to investigate these types of issues. It can be a human resource individual or a personnel manager or even an outside investigator.

Who should conduct the investigation? To find out, download the cheat sheet: How to Choose and Investigator for a Workplace Investigation.

Interviewing the Complainant

Interview the person making the complaint. Make sure to gather all the information including the date, the time, the place, who is involved, names of witnesses, the full nature of the complaint and any other relevant information. Do this in a secure and private area so no one else can hear the information.

Take care to not influence your interview subject's recollection of the incident. If the complaint is of a sexual harassment nature, be sensitive to the complainant and tell them that the company takes this seriously and will conduct a full investigation into the incident. Once this information is taken in writing, have the complainant sign and date the written report.

Interviewing the Alleged Harasser

Next, interview the alleged harasser using the same guidelines. Also interview any witnesses. Be sure to inform all parties that they are not to discuss the incident or the investigation with anyone. This is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the investigation. Assure them that confidentiality will be respected.

During all interviews, ask open ended questions and avoid leading questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Take care to appear non-judgmental at all times. When documenting the interviews, do not include any opinions or conclusions of your own. Just document the facts as they are stated.

Learn how to conduct productive, informative investigation interviews. Download the eBook Investigation Interview Techniques.

Reach a Conclusion

Once you have completed the interviews and have obtained all the facts, you may wish to discuss the finding with human resources or your investigation team. Review all evidence and take into account any factors that could have influenced your interviews such as bias, consistency of accounts, prior incidences, corroboration, etc. Review all records including timecards, video or other recordings, prior warnings, prior conduct or punishments, the harasser’s knowledge of the company code of conduct, etc.

Finally, write your report. Document all findings in writing. Communicate the findings to both the alleged harasser and the complainant. Take appropriate actions to correct any issues.