You’ve just received a complaint from one of your employees that feels he is being bullied by his manager. What do you do? Most managers are very uncomfortable with this scenario and are unsure of the steps they need to take swiftly in order to both resolve the situation and meet the requirements of the law.
The 5 key components to an effective workplace investigation are:
- Closing the Loop
As soon as a complaint is brought forward you are obligated to investigate, regardless if the complaint is verbal or in writing. Speed is of the essence to ensure employees know you take complaints seriously and that the situation doesn’t spread further. Interviews need to be conducted with both the complainant and the alleged harasser. Both should be asked if there were any witnesses to the incident(s) and those witnesses also need to be interviewed. Keep careful notes of the interviews. It is also a good practice to allow the interviewee to review your notes and sign off on them as being an accurate record.
It is extremely important to stress to all interviewees, including witnesses, that the interview must be kept confidential. There are to be no discussions of the interview with any outside parties, nor to other witnesses or the complainant or alleged harasser. By keeping the investigation contained within the bounds of all interviewed parties, integrity of the investigation is maintained as well as the privacy of all individuals involved. If one of the interviewees is found to have broken the confidentiality agreement, appropriate disciplinary action should be taken.
The investigator should review all the material pertinent to the complaint, including any documentation by both the complainant and the alleged harasser, and speaking to all available witnesses. Any other evidence that may be available should also be reviewed, such as security camera footage, emails (assuming your policy has already informed employees that their emails may be monitored), etc.
Do not jump to conclusions. Maintain objectivity throughout the process. Once you have collected all the data, then make a determination based on the evidence. Your report should also include what steps need to be taken to resolve the situation, such as disciplinary action, mediation, training, etc.
Closing the Loop
Don’t keep the parties hanging. You need to meet with each party (complainant and alleged harasser) after the investigation has concluded and let them know the results. To maintain confidentiality, this means just the high level results. A copy of the report and all documentation need to be kept in a separate file from the employee file. If disciplinary action is warranted, a copy of this can go in the appropriate employee file.
This is a very simple explanation of an investigation process. There are entire courses dedicated to this topic that can provide more details on each of the steps above, but each investigation should have the above components as a minimum. Workplace investigations are never enjoyable and many people dread them. But these 5 key components will help guide you through what can often be an uncomfortable process.