Ask the Expertare-there-a-standard-set-of-questions-i-should-ask-when-conducting-an-investigation-into-a-harassment-complaint
hri_Admin Staff asked 2 years ago
1 Answers
Glenn Demby Staff answered 2 years ago

No, but there are some definite parameters on how to conduct an interview. Here’s something from one of the best sources I know of. https://gbewbenefits.com/conduct-harassment-investigation/ to see the entire set of guidelines.
General Rules for Interviewing Witnesses
When interviewing witnesses, the interviewer should:

  • Prepare an outline of questions to ask.
  • Maintain a professional demeanor.
  • Determine the extent of personal, as opposed to hearsay, knowledge.
  • Ask open-ended questions rather than leading questions. For example, do not ask the leading question, “Did he tell offensive jokes?”; instead, ask the open-ended question, “What did he say?”
  • Ask follow-up questions to ensure sufficient detail is gained from the interview.
  • Ask for supporting evidence (i.e., photos, emails, calendar entries).
  • Note whether a witness refuses to review or sign a written statement and reasons given for refusal.
  • Consider sending witness a follow-up “thank you” letter stating that the employer intends to maintain privacy and enforce its anti-harassment policy, which simultaneously creates a documented record of the employer’s intent.

Interviewers should not:

  • Intimidate witnesses.
  • Promise absolute confidentiality. Witnesses should not be told that their statements will be kept off the record because complete confidentiality can never be assured and a written record of the recollection of witnesses may be essential in any resulting proceedings.
  • Ask leading questions, because leading questions do not allow the witness to provide their own facts. Rather, the interviewer should ask open-ended questions, such as, “How did you respond to his statement?”; not, “Did you tell him that his statement made you uncomfortable?”

Complainant Interview
At the outset, the complainant(s) should be advised of the following:

  • The company takes reports of wrongdoing seriously and will investigate thoroughly.
  • Confidentiality will be observed to the extent practical to protect everyone’s privacy.
  • Retaliation for making a report of misconduct or harassment is forbidden by the company.
  • The complainant must immediately advise the investigator or human resources (or any other alternative) of any perceived retaliation or of further incidents of misconduct or harassment.

During the interview, the interviewer should:

  • Be sensitive to the issues being raised.
  • Get a description of each incident, including date, time, place, and nature of conduct.
  • Identify any witnesses to the alleged incident(s).
  • Identify any other persons who may claim to have been harassed.

For each incident, the interviewer should:

  • Ask whether there is any documentation that constitutes or records the harassment.
  • Ask whether the complainant has discussed the incident with anyone else.
  • Determine and record limits, if any, of the complainant’s cooperativeness.
  • Determine the complainant’s reason for delay, if any, in reporting the alleged harassment.
  • Consider asking what the complainant would like to see done to ensure that problem does not recur.
  • Determine if the conduct has any effect on the complainant, but do not suggest any effects such as emotional damage, trouble sleeping, or other effect.
  • Explore need for any interim action while the investigation is pending.
  • Consider whether to prepare and ask (not demand) the complainant to review, correct, and sign a written account of the allegations after the interview, bearing in mind that asking for statements can be risky and can backfire. (Make a note if the complainant refuses to review or sign a written statement and the reason(s) given for refusal.)
  • Consider whether to document procedural aspects of initial interview to make record of employer’s policy, concerns, and commitment to follow through.
  • Provide the complainant with a record of the interview upon request.

Alleged Wrongdoer Interview
At the outset, the alleged wrongdoer should be advised of the following:

  • The purpose of meeting is to ask about allegations of workplace conduct.
  • Prior to the meeting, no conclusions have been reached.
  • The interview is the alleged wrongdoer’s opportunity to provide their version of the facts at issue.
  • Full, truthful cooperation is expected of everyone involved in the investigation.
  • The alleged wrongdoer is prohibited from interfering with the investigation (for example, by talking with other employees about the allegations or the subject matter of the complaint).
  • Any retaliation is forbidden, regardless of whether the allegations under investigation are proven false. Alleged wrongdoers should be informed that all types of retaliation are forbidden, including the following:
    • Demoting, transferring, or dismissing the complainant or any employee involved in the investigation.
    • Providing negative evaluations of the complainant or any employee involved in the investigation.
    • Verbal misconduct.
    • Denial of overtime or any other job benefit to the complainant or any employee involved in the investigation.
    • Rebuking or rebuffing the complainant or any employee involved in the investigation.

Interviewers should be mindful that the source of the information about the alleged wrongdoer need not be disclosed. During the interview, interviewers should:

  • Begin with general description of allegations and ask open-ended questions to obtain narrative responses.
  • Identify each alleged improper statement or action in detail and allow the alleged wrongdoer the opportunity to respond to each incident.
  • Explore any working and personal relationship between complainant and alleged harasser.
  • Identify the relationship of the alleged wrongdoer to the complainant, for example, whether the alleged wrongdoer is an agent of the company, a supervisory employee, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • Ascertain the extent and nature of the interactions the alleged wrongdoer had with the alleged victim. For example, determine whether:
    • Gifts, cards, or notes have been exchanged.
    • There has been a dating, sexual, social, or working relationship.
    • The complainant initiated or participated in any sexual discussions, jokes, or gestures.
    • The complainant ever indicated any displeasure with anything the alleged wrongdoer said or did, or whether the complainant asked the alleged wrongdoer to end such behavior.
  • Inquire about behavior of complainant and alleged wrongdoer during time surrounding the alleged incident(s).
  • Inquire about any other potential witnesses.
  • Explore any reasons the complainant may have to be untruthful, for example, a soured romance, work disappointment, job performance, or personal problems outside work.
  • Provide the alleged wrongdoer with an opportunity to provide alibis or mitigating circumstances.
  • Consider whether to ask for written responses to the allegations.
  • Note if alleged wrongdoer refuses to provide or sign a written statement and reasons given for refusal.
  • Consider whether to document the initial interview in order to make a record of employer’s advisory against retaliation and other aspects of employer’s desire to be fair and preserve privacy while taking complaints of harassment seriously.

Interviewing Witnesses
At the outset, interviewees should be advised of the following:

  • The purpose of the interview is to investigate a complaint of misconduct.
  • Full, truthful cooperation is expected of everyone involved in the investigation.
  • There will be no retaliation for cooperating in the investigation.
  • The witness has the right and duty to report any perceived retaliation.

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Hope that helps. Glenn