Workplace investigators are often asked to investigate complex cases in which one individual makes serious allegations against another, where no witnesses are present. It is an independent investigator’s role (and legal responsibility) to thoroughly and carefully interview both parties to assess their credibility. Investigators consider how the parties present themselves during the interview, including the content of their interviews and their overall demeanour. An investigator reviews their accounts with other available information, such as emails, journals, documents and otherwise to determine whether they are consistent.
At the end of the day, investigators must make an objective assessment about what took place based on all of the information provided to them at the time. While others may or may not agree with the investigator’s conclusions, the investigator must do what is right – not what is easy.
In our current culture, investigators are commonly ‘pressured’ by individuals in an attempt to compromise their independence. I have faced complaints by individuals (both complainants and respondents) who disagree with my investigative findings and think I should have come to a different conclusion. This litigious approach can have a “chilling effect” on the integrity of the investigative process. Individuals may be loathe to investigate serious issues if they think they will face a personal lawsuit in doing so.
This “pressure” not to investigate – or act – for fear of reprisal or criticism – is often experienced within organizations. This has contributed to a culture of inaction in which individuals fear raising, reviewing or remedying serious workplace issues. This enables one or two individuals to control the workplace environment, causing others to “walk on eggshells”. Sometimes, this person is the leader, sometimes it is the employee. Regardless of who it is, everyone suffers the long-term consequences of not addressing unacceptable behaviour.
In threatening legal action, individuals presumably hope to pressure organizations into turning a blind eye to potential wrongdoing in the workplace. Perhaps they hope that, with enough heat, organizations will be scared into not asking the tough questions, the questions that need to be asked.
As an investigator, it is frustrating not to be able to substantively respond when faced with media/public scrutiny. However, to do so would be antithetical to my role.
I will not stop doing what I do. I will continue to investigate complex and difficult cases in a fair and objective manner. I will continue to make difficult calls about individuals’ credibility and wrongdoing. I will continue to reach findings with which complainants and/or respondents disagree (statistically, one party will always disagree). That said, I am deeply committed to providing everyone with a fair and objective process – and the right to be heard with due consideration. And as long as I am fair, I will never be “wrong”.
Have a great weekend.