CRITICAL EVALUATION INDECENT BEHAVIOR
Gather evidence that might
support or negate the complaint. This might include voice
mails, text messages, e-mails,
photos, timecards, business expense records and social media
posts. For example, electronic
messages might show that a male
supervisor made inappropriate
sexual comments to a female
subordinate. On the flip side, if
workers need a key card to enter
the worksite, building access records might show that the person accused likely wasn’t in the
building at the time of the alleged
incident, Cole-Johnson suggests.
Check past performance evaluations and prior complaints.
Consider whether the person
making the allegation might be
seeking retribution for a poor
evaluation. “You have to leave
your mind open to all of this. Unfortunately, this sometimes happens,” although less frequently
than some suggest, Clark says.
Also evaluate any past com-
plaints against the person be-
ing accused. Contact former
employees, particularly the in-
dividual who previously held
the accuser’s job or anyone in
the same department who left
suddenly without explanation,
to find out if they also had prob-
lems with the accused employee,
Even if there are no prior
complaints, you might detect a
pattern of questionable behav-
ior. Sometimes the problem es-
calates over time. That was the
case with a female employee in a
medical office who was asked by
a doctor to stay late frequently
to review the day’s cases over
drinks. The situation became
more personal and sexually
charged than she wanted it to
be—and she didn’t know how to
get out of it, Clark says.
Document every step. Take
careful notes throughout the
interviews. Record who wasn’t
available and why. Some HR
professionals even ask interviewees to sign off on the written
summaries of their statements.
Be aware that any written evidence might well end up being
scrutinized in court.
Encourage confidentiality. Ask
those you’ve interviewed to keep
the conversations confidential.
But don’t mandate it. The National Labor Relations Board
has said employers can’t prohibit employees from discussing
working conditions, including
workplace investigations, says
Susan White, SHRM-SCP, chief
executive officer of Susan Tinder
White Consulting LLC in Indianapolis. Instead, encourage
them to help you with the investigation by not discussing it with
others, she advises.
That goes for the HR team as
well. A sexual harassment investigation “can’t be treated as juicy
gossip, drama or a soap opera,”
Snape says. “It can have such a
long-lasting effect on the company and people’s careers.”
MAKE A DECISION
Ultimately, you’ll need to decide
whether a company policy was
violated or inappropriate conduct occurred and recommend
a course of action to the deci-sion-maker.
“Don’t just regurgitate what
the witnesses told you. That’s not
the role of an investigator,” advises Cole-Johnson, the lawyer
and trained investigator. Weigh
the evidence. Can you corroborate details of each person’s version? Does either person have a
When there are conflicting versions of events in harassment cases, the U.S. Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission suggests using the following factors to
assess the credibility of all involved individuals:
Plausibility. Is the individual’s version of the facts believable? Are there inconsistencies?
Demeanor. Does the individual seem to be telling the truth? This can be tricky.
Contrary to popular belief, a liar might look you in the eye, while someone telling
the truth could avert their gaze. Instead of being fidgety, liars are more likely to be
rigid, says Michael Wade Johnson, CEO of Clear Law Institute and a former U.S.
Department of Justice attorney.
Motive. Does the individual have a reason to lie?
Corroboration. Are there documents or witnesses that support the individual’s
version of events?
Past record. Do any of the individuals have a prior history of inappropriate conduct or false statements?
WATCH a video about
how to tell when
someone is lying
during a workplace