By Maria Collar, SIOP Blogger
No matter how successful we are at treating others fairly, there will always be an occasion in which someone feels that they were wronged or treated unfairly. When an employee feels their rights were abridged or policies were not applied consistently, it is essential to respond to the concerns in a sensible, comprehensive and objective manner. It is the investigation process that will permit complying with regulations, and a good thorough investigation will help avoid claims of discrimination.
Conducting an objective investigation and making a sound decision minimizes the risk of wrongful termination or discipline. If an investigation reveals that an error occurred, the organization will avoid making a costly decision. Whether or not the organization prevails, the serious financial consequences of wrongful decisions can drain any organization’s resources. This frustrating process can be avoided by conducting a thorough investigation in which all pertinent and relevant information are taking into account.
Conducting a thorough investigation requires acquiring effective investigative and decision making competence. Those who conduct effective investigations know how to ask questions and extract information from those who are reluctant to communicate. It is a skill to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant details or to be comfortable at identifying pertinent information.
An investigation, by definition, is the collection of factual information from all pertinent and relevant sources which will assist in reaching a well-founded conclusion. Thus, if you can readily and easily resolve an issue with an employee “on the spot” or with very little effort, an investigation is not warranted.
Perhaps the most difficult part of an investigation is arriving at a credible and sound determination. Who is being dishonest? Who has misperceived the situation? Here are some helpful guidelines for arriving at a well-founded decision:
- Judge behaviors, not appearances. As soon as your interviewee leaves, make notes on factors that could help assess credibility later on. Pay particular attention to the demeanor or body language of the interviewee while reacting to allegations or questions. Was the person argumentative or hostile?
- Do not judge the motives. When reaching a conclusion, use facts not assumptions of intent. Facts are objective, assumptions of intent are not. Make judgments based on actions and not motives, as we cannot judge what you cannot see. You can see factual information and, thereof, form a well-founded assessment of the situation.
- Judge by standards. Be careful setting precedence. The standard you used will be coming back. Always remember that the standard we used can be used against us.
It goes without saying that different issues are handled differently. The nature of an issue determines how it is handled. As a result, it is essential to fully understand the nature of the issue and any special obligations that the organization may have with respect to the issue.