In the past, we have discussed why open-ended questions help us conduct more effective internal investigations when there are allegations of discrimination or harassment. To ensure the investigation is as thorough as possible, you’ll also need to focus on asking specifics – from the complainant about her allegations, from all witnesses involved, and from the subject of the investigation itself. Here are some questions and techniques you will want to keep in mind for your next internal investigation.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
Initially, you want to determine the “who, what, where, and when”. When speaking with the complainant you want as many specifics as possible to determine what they deemed inappropriate behavior, discriminatory behavior, or harassment. Don’t shy away from asking why the complainant believes that the behavior was discriminatory and be sure to obtain specific examples of the discriminatory behavior. It is also important to find out if other people were treated differently than the complainant and in what way. If the complainant indicates that others were treated differently, note if those individuals were treated better or worse and whether their personal characteristics, such as race or sex, differs from the complainant.
When dealing with the accused, you want to make sure that you are transparent and that you allow her to give her side of the story. You need responses to all of the allegations lodged against her. It is not a complete and thorough investigation unless the accused also has the chance to defend her actions. That means you need to ask specifically whether discrimination was a factor in any of their decisions or behavior.
Complaints and Retaliation Issues
In many cases, you will be dealing with claims of retaliation following a complaint – poor performance reviews, complainant passed over for promotion, or an employee being written up for some minor infraction and put on probation of some type. When these cases occur, it is necessary to ask specific questions regarding the accused’s relationship with the complainant including:
- How did you feel about the complaint being filed? — This question should be framed in various ways to determine if there are any inconsistencies in the response from the accuser.
- What role did the complaint have in the (action) you recently took?— Determine whether a poor performance review, a denial of a salary increase, complainant being passed over for a promotion, etc. was triggered by the original complaint.
Techniques Matter When Interviewing
Interviewers must always be aware of the body language of the person they are interviewing. Pick up on verbal queues when interviewing, but also pick up on those which are non-verbal. When asking a question that is making the person uncomfortable or if the person appears to be lying, make sure you go back to that question and ask it differently. This will also help you identify inconsistencies which may assist in determining whether the person is being truthful with you.
A fair investigation means you are listening to both sides, the accuser and the accused. Make sure you are listening for openings that could lead you to ask additional questions outside of the line of questioning that you had planned to get to the root of the problem.
At Ablin Law, we provide professional, confidential workplace investigation solutions for employers and law firms. Please contact us for more information.