Internal Investigations in the Workplace
Do you have clear policies in place that enable supervisory personnel to respond promptly to complaints of harassment and discrimination in the workplace? Are you training your employees to handle subsequent investigations? My thoughts:
All employers should have a grievance procedure clearly outlining the steps an employee should take to make such a complaint. The policy should outline who the employee should contact and offer the employee the ability to bypass their direct supervisor should that person be the harassing party. A good grievance policy emphasizes that confidentiality will be maintained to the greatest extent possible, but, makes it clear that an investigation will require interviewing the alleged harasser, as well as relevant witnesses. Although confidentiality cannot be guaranteed, investigators should only disclose appropriate information on a need-to-know basis.
Investigations should involve an interview with the complainant, as well as other involved parties and/or witnesses. Open-ended questions offer both parties the opportunity to tell their side of the story. The investigating party should consider taking statements and using this documentation to support any later finding. Investigations should be fair and keep the complainant apprised of the status of the investigation. Moving with haste demonstrates that the employer does not tolerate harassment of any form or fashion. If disciplinary action is necessary, it should be taken.
Communication of the results of an investigation, whether affirming or negative, is crucial. By informing the pertinent parties of the results, both are assured that their complaints and/or responses were heard and recognized. Where the parties will continue to work together, it is important to reiterate to all involved that retaliation for a complaint, whether substantiated or unsubstantiated, is prohibited.
The best way to ensure that an internal investigation is handled appropriately? Proper training. While a grievance policy is the first step, the policy itself is only as effective as its implementation. A savvy business owner or HR professional trains supervisory staff on appropriate follow-through on a complaint. Ignoring a complaint of harassment or discrimination or taking inappropriate action in regards to the complaint can be an expensive misstep by the employer.
I love nothing more than equipping employers with the tools necessary to create a compliant workplace, which cultivates a positive company culture and minimizes liability. If your workplace is in need of training on internal investigations or assistance handling complaints of harassment or discrimination, please don't hesitate to contact me.