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How to conduct investigations in the workplace?

Five actions employers should use when conducting harassment investigations:

1. Selection of the researcher

Employers should take the time to train an internal person or hire an independent expert workplace investigator like Edge Investigations, who can conduct workplace harassment investigations. This person generally has extensive experience and training on how to investigate reports of workplace harassment. First, the person must be able to conduct appropriate investigations to limit the company's liability. Second, the person's experience and training is likely to be closely scrutinized, if not challenged by the opposing attorney if the case turns into litigation. Therefore, someone with experience and well accredited is preferred.

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2. The research must be free from any appearance of influence or bias.

The investigator must not have any personal involvement with any of the parties that are part of the investigation. To avoid any appearance of undue influence, the investigator should not be subject to any oversight or supervisory control by the alleged harasser. This means that for smaller businesses, or in cases where the owner or president of the business is alleged to have harassed someone, it is recommended that an external third party who is independent of the business be engaged to conduct the investigation.

3. The investigation must ask the right questions.

Questions to ask the complainant:

  • Who, when, what, how, and where: Who committed the alleged workplace harassment? What exactly happened or was said? When did the workplace harassment happen and is it still ongoing? Where did it happen? How often did it happen? How did it affect you?
  • How did you react to? What response did you give when or after the incidents occurred?
  • How did the bullying affect you? Has your job been affected in any way?
  • Are there people who have relevant information? Was someone present when the alleged harassment occurred? Did you tell anyone about it? Did anyone see him immediately after episodes of alleged bullying?
  • Did the person who harassed you harass someone else? Do you know if someone complained about that person's harassment?
  • Are there any notes, physical evidence, or other documentation related to the incident (s)?
  • How would you like to resolved the situation?
  • Do you know any other relevant information?

workplace harrassment investigation

Questions to ask the alleged harasser:

  • What is your response to the allegations?
  • If the harasser claims the allegations are false, ask why the complainant might be lying.
  • Are there people who have relevant information?
  • Are there any notes, physical evidence, or other documentation related to the incident (s)?
  • Do you know any other relevant information?

Questions to ask third parties:

  • What did you see or hear?
  • When did this happen? Describe the behavior of the alleged harasser towards the complainant and towards others in the workplace.
  • What did the complainant tell you?
  • When did he tell you this?
  • Do you know any other relevant information?
  • Are there other people aside you that have relevant information?

4. The investigator must conduct credibility assessments.

The EEO again provides some guidance on the factors to use when determining which witnesses are most credible:

  • Inherent plausibility: Is the testimony credible at first glance? Makes sense?
  • Behavior: Did the person appear to be telling the truth or lying?
  • Reason for falsifying: Did the person have a reason to lie?
  • Corroboration: Is there witness testimony (such as eyewitness testimony, people who saw the person shortly after the alleged incidents, or people who discussed the incidents with him or her around the time it occurred) or physical proof (such as written documentation) that corroborates the group's testimony?
  • Past record: Is there a history of a similar behavior that the alleged harasser has?

workplace harrassment investigator

None of the above factors determine credibility. For example, the fact that there are no eyewitnesses to the alleged harassment does not necessarily invalidate the credibility of the perpetrator, as harassment often takes place behind closed doors. Also, the fact that the alleged harasser has had similar behavior in the past does not necessarily mean that she has done it again.

5. The final determination of the investigation

After making credibility determinations and evaluating the facts, company management must make a determination as to whether or not the harassment occurred. The parties must be informed of the determination. Even if the employer determines that the harassment failed to occur, the EEO takes the position that the employer must take steps like preventative training and ongoing monitoring.

For example, although the underlying harassment may not have occurred, a supervisor could be held liable for retaliating against the employee who made the report of harassment. Therefore, it is important for employers to inform the parties involved of the outcome, the unacceptable behavior as a result of the determination, and to ensure continued compliance with the findings and legal obligations of the company.


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