Are Your Workplace Investigation Witnesses Credible?

Are Your Workplace Investigation Witnesses Credible?

Best practices for handling witness testimony.

As a workplace investigator, you may be called upon to determine the credibility of witnesses when investigating workplace conduct issues. It is very important that you recognize and document witnesses properly and that you conduct your investigation to ensure the credibility of all witness testimony and that your findings are objective and free of any discrimination or pre-conceived notions.

Handling Witness Testimony

How you obtain and make factual findings based on your investigation is crucial to a successful outcome and one that can stand up in legal proceedings if necessary.

Wondering what questions to ask your witness? Download the free cheat sheet: Top 20 Questions to Ask in an Investigation Interview.

Here are some best practices for conducting workplace investigations and handling witness testimony:

  • Investigate all allegations promptly. Your investigation should begin as soon as you learn of a claim of any wrongdoing. This includes all complaints including ones obtained during exit interviews, anonymous tips, rumors or any other ways you learned of the issue.
  • Be objective. Document everything and keep detailed notes on all issues. Be careful not to put in personal opinions or jump to conclusions.
  • Choose an investigator who is experienced and objective. Make sure they do not have any axes to grind or personal issues that could affect their neutrality. They should also not be a supervisor of, or have control or authority over, the accused or the person who brought the complaint. Consider using an outside investigator if necessary, especially if the accused is senior management.
  • Investigate all accusations thoroughly and in great detail. Talk to every witness. It is also a good idea to have witnesses sign their statements so there is no question about their testimony at a later date.
  • Maintain confidentiality as best you can, but don’t promise confidentiality as you may need to reveal information in legal proceedings. Take steps to protect witnesses from future issues or backlash from their testimony, especially from co-workers or supervisors. Disclose information only to people who are on a “need to know” basis.
  • Assess the credibility of every witness, as various witnesses may provide differing accounts of the facts. Notice the witness’s demeanor, reactions, body language, memory of the event, consistency of their testimony, their recall of the timing of the events, any personal issues that might influence their testimony, and their motivation. Did the witness impress you as one who was telling the truth or have any reason not to be truthful? And lastly, compare their testimony to that of other witnesses.
  • Objectively review all information and testimony before making your conclusions. Did improper conduct or actions occur? Does the evidence support your conclusion? Prepare a written report explaining and documenting your findings. Include any recommendations for disciplinary actions to be taken. This can include suspension, counseling, training, warnings, demotion, transfer, probation or even termination.

Be sure to tell everyone involved that retaliation against any party or witness is not allowed. Follow up to ensure that no retaliation is taking place.