Cranking Up the Volume on Harassment Investigations

Bullying has received a lot of media attention lately. Most of the stories involving bullying are based in schools, but the same messages can be transferred to the workplace.

Posted by Joe Gerard in Employment Law, Ethics & Compliance, Harassment, Human Resources on November 11th, 2010

Bullying has received a lot of media attention lately. Most of the stories involving bullying are based in schools, but the same messages can be transferred to the workplace. We’ve seen the unfortunate consequences that bullying and harassment have lead to- stress, anxiety and even suicide. When an employee raises a concern, supervisors, managers and employers can take action and prevent harassment from reaching that breaking point. Investigating harassment allegations plays a large part in reducing workplace harassment.  Here are some of the ways you can crank up your company’s approach to harassment investigations:

Encourage Reporting

Make sure employees know it’s okay to raise their voice and call out harassment in the workplace. I know, easier said than done. However, I think that if employees feel comfortable talking to their supervisors and don’t feel that they will be retaliated against, they will be likely to report misconduct early on. The earlier an incident is reported, the easier it is to limit the damage caused by harassment.

Respond to Allegations

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Under Bill 168 in Ontario, Canada, companies are responsible for addressing and investigating EVERY harassment complaint. When an employee complains about harassment in the workplace, make it a priority investigation. Do a preliminary investigation into the allegation to make sure a full investigation is necessary. Don’t delay the investigation, respond quickly so that the harassment can be dealt with and put to an end.

Select an Unbiased Investigator

If an employee reports that their supervisor has been harassing them, don’t assign that supervisor to the investigation. If you have to bring in a third party investigator to eliminate a biased opinion, then do so. Since harassment investigations deal with sensitive issues, it’s best to have a trained professional deal with these types of investigations. The TechRepublic article “Follow Proper Harassment Investigation Procedures,” discusses the importance of properly trained investigators:

“This training helps assure that all important aspects of the situation are considered, including whether multiple complaints have been received about the same individual. In order to evaluate the complaint properly, the investigator also should understand what constitutes harassment under both your organization’s policy and the law.”

Investigation Interviews

Interview the complainant first, followed by the subject (accused) then any identified witnesses. Sticking to this order is recommended because you can hear both sides of the story before witnesses get involved. Investigation interviews are the key to any investigation. Harassment is a sensitive issue to deal with, so keep that in mind during the investigations. The TechRepublic article I mentioned earlier states:

“Investigators should be sensitive to the emotional nature of this type of investigation and should be prepared to deal with employee embarrassment and anger. They then need to be patient, but firm, in explaining that precise details are needed for an accurate investigation.”


Remind each interviewee of the importance of confidentiality and that it will be upheld to the greatest extent possible. Sometimes third parties need to get involved and absolute confidentiality makes it impossible to complete the investigation. As an investigator, it’s important that you also respect confidentiality and don’t share statements made in the interviews with those being interviewed.

Joe Gerard
Joe Gerard

CEO, i-Sight

Spend my days showing off the i-Sight investigative case management software and finding ways to help clients improve their investigations. Usually working with corporate security, HR & employee relations, compliance and legal teams.

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