Different types of questions can elicit different answers. If you are investigating a workplace complaint of harassment, discrimination, or any other legal violation, the questions you ask are the key to uncovering the information you need to make informed decisions and to protect your organization. You should approach the questioning from two angles, asking both specific and open-ended questions.

Specific Questions

Many of the questions asked during internal investigations focus on specific details of the alleged incident. They are often who, what, where, when, and how questions that reveal, piece by piece, what the witnesses observed, what the accuser alleges to have experienced, and how the accuser describes what happened.

These questions are essential for finding out the relevant facts. However, if you stopped there, you could be missing out on important information. To get as full a picture as possible, you should start and end your interviews with open-ended questions.

Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions are questions presented to the person being interviewed to see if they have anything else that they want to add. The EEOC recommends asking witnesses, accusers, and the accused questions such as these:

  • Do you know of any other information that would be helpful to the investigation?

  • Do you know of any other documents, notes, or other physical evidence that relate to the investigation?

  • Do you know of any other person who might have relevant information?

Even if you had already asked the interview subjects extensive specific questions about what they knew, these open-ended questions will often elicit new information that they hadn’t revealed before.

Ask at the End of the Interview

A great time to ask open-ended questions is when the interview is coming to a close. Interview subjects may feel more comfortable and relaxed at the end than they did at the beginning of the interview. They may have given the incident more thought as the interview progressed and have more to say at the end. The open-ended questions also give them a chance to talk about anything they have to say about the incident that didn’t come up before because it was outside the scope of the specific questions.

Check for Additional Allegations

An important open-ended question to ask complainants is if they have any other concerns, allegations, or complaints. This will help ensure that you are investigating everything that needs to be looked into and also helps prevent the complainant from surprising you with additional allegations in the future.

Maintaining Neutrality

The effectiveness of the interview process depends on the investigator staying neutral and not being swayed by any biases. That may be challenging for people investigating allegations within their own companies. An expert, outside investigator can help. To find out more about the professional services we offer to employers and law firms conducting investigations, contact us at Ablin Law.

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