What I've Learned from Workplace Investigations
2017 was an intense year for workplace investigations. It is the year that the proverbial curtain was opened and all the world became aware of the harassment that takes place in certain industries. It is the year that we saw powerful men finally fall because of their lewd actions and their inappropriate use of power. While 2017 brought workplace harassment into the forefront, workplace investigators have been quietly working to stop harassment and discrimination in its tracks for decades. Every workplace investigator learns as they go, as each case is unique, but every investigator knows these facts to be true.
Emotions will run high
Emotion is at the heart of every workplace investigation, whether you are investigating a sexual harassment claim, a fraud case, or a discrimination complaint. All parties involved are emotionally invested in the outcome and tempers can flare. It is essential, as an investigator, to anticipate the emotional aspects of the case, as well as the facts you need as an investigator. By attending to emotional issues alongside your obligations to your client, you can garner more trust from the people you are working with, which can lead to a more efficient investigation, overall.
Having Procedures in Place is Important
Companies that fail to have discrimination and harassment policies in place are more likely to run into issues with workplace investigations. It is vital that every business has policies and procedures in place for misconduct that are spelled out for all staff. Additionally, it is imperative that there is a transparent system in place for filing complaints. By ensuring your team has a way to reach management and discuss potential issues, you can lower your instances of litigation for workplace disputes. Such procedures also relieve tension in the workplace. In particular, 2017 taught us that there needs to be a system for complaining about the people at the top of the company.
The quality of the investigation counts
Conducting workplace investigations is an activity that requires a diverse skill set and extensive training. Taking the information and coaxing the truth out of conflicting accounts is an art form. A good workplace investigation is one that gets to the bottom of the issue, but works tirelessly to ease tension within the workspace and to shield the company from litigation and on-going problems with office culture. A poorly led workplace investigation, however, can make things many times worse. A poorly conducted investigation can lead to higher tension, hurt feelings, and open up the employer to more litigation. Those one day, or one hour, investigations trainings really only teach management how to hire a properly trained investigator. In short, the quality of the investigation is the most significant factor in resolving issues.
You can't shove the genie back in the bottle
Everybody talks; that is just a fact. When conducting a workplace investigation discretion is key, but many investigators spend their time chasing down leaks. Some information is going to get out, and an investigator with robust skills will understand how to manage that leak. Your witnesses might share what they said to a friendly confidant; your accused party might try to clear their name. It is human nature, and there is no way to stop it. A good workplace investigation will focus on sharing as little information as the law allows with those involved to limit the amount of information that gets out.
Whether dealing with a sexual harassment complaint or investigating a claim of discrimination within a company, workplace investigators are tasked with coaxing out the delicate details of a complaint and figuring out what information is accurate and what information is hearsay. Investigators look at situations from every possible angle and pull facts and opinions from multiple sources to come to a conclusion. While every case is unique and different in its own way, many cases have striking similarities. The most common similarities start at the managerial level, where a lack of procedure has left the staff and company vulnerable to poor behavior, and trickle down to the emotional effect investigations have on company culture and the working environment.