Any type of workplace investigation can be fraught with problems and those who report workplace harassment or other types of inappropriate behavior, are often loathe to provide information because they fear retaliation. There have been some frightening statistics in recent years regarding how little employees know about their rights — and how few are aware of their company’s policies protecting whistleblowers.
If you are one of the people charged with conducting workplace investigations, it is imperative you find a way to establish trust with both the person who filed the complaint, as well as the person who the complaint was made against. This is often the only way to get to the bottom of what actually happened. Establishing your own credibility and creating trust with the complainant, the accused, and witnesses may be your biggest obstacle at the beginning of a new investigation.
In the past, we have discussed how you can ensure your investigation can remain free of bias, as well as how to ensure you are properly assessing the credibility of those who are being accused versus making the accusations. While those are critically important throughout the length of the investigation, we believe that ensuring you understand how you can effectively build trust and credibility is the first step to avoiding fatal flaws in an investigation.
Establishing Trust with Involved Parties
There are core three parties to every investigation outside of the investigator. It is important to establish your independence and to ensure each involved party feels you are trustworthy, which often requires a slightly different approach for each one. Here are some important steps you can take when dealing with those involved in your investigation:
- Dealing with Complainant— make sure they understand you are taking their complaint seriously. You can establish trust by explaining the process you will be using, and reassuring them that no retaliation will come to them as a result of filing a complaint, and explaining how to report any concerns.
- Dealing with Accused— the accused is likely to be the hardest person to establish trust with because they may feel the deck is stacked against them. However, if you take the time to explain each step in the process to them, reassure them that you will be conducting a thorough and independent investigation, and offer them the opportunity to fully explain their position, this will often go a long way to starting to establish that trust.
- Dealing with Witnesses — the last thing a witness wants to feel is that they are under a microscope with coworkers. You can begin to build credibility with witnesses by assuring them their information will be kept confidential to the extent possible with all involved parties. Remember, you cannot guarantee 100 percent confidentiality as there may be a need to disclose part of someone’s statement to the involved parties. As such, you may need to establish an off-worksite location to conduct interviews where they cannot be viewed easily by coworkers, other witnesses, and the accused/accuser.
It is important to always keep in mind that once trust has been established, it is fragile. You will have to continually work to maintain the credibility you have established with everyone involved through the end of the investigation period.
Credibility Key to Successful Investigations
Being trustworthy is the key to credibility. When the individuals involved in a workplace investigation believe you are trustworthy, they have more confidence in your ability to see the process through without bias.
The key steps to building credibility include:
- Establishing your trustworthiness
- Handling the investigation competently
- Being consistent in your dealings with all parties
- Ensuring you are being genuine with all parties
- Assuring your sincerity to getting to the bottom of the accusations
- Displaying empathy with all involved parties without compromising neutrality
- Being respectful of the emotions of everyone involved
- Holding yourself accountable
Every person who is asked to sit for an interview with you, whether it is the accuser, the accused, or a potential witness must feel you have not prejudged their involvement.
When Credibility and Trust Cannot Be Established
Unfortunately, in some cases, there are instances where a person who may be tasked with conducting workplace investigations cannot be neutral because of their relationship with one of the involved parties. In these cases, it may become necessary for a third party to conduct the investigation on your behalf.
This is when you can count on Ablin Law for help. Thanks to years of legal work where I was able to represent both individuals and corporations, I bring a balanced perspective to all investigations. This means you can count on the fact that investigations will remain completely neutral. Contact Ablin Law for more information on workplace investigations by telephone at 312.288.2012, text 773.230.4386, or email [email protected].