Chapter 3: Complainant Interviews
Normally an investigator will interview the complainant first, followed by the subject (the accused) and any witnesses. When interviewing a complainant, investigators must take care to avoid expressing any predetermined conclusions about the incident. Begin with neutral, background questions and ease into incident-specific ones. Pay attention to the complainant’s tone and body language. Do not allow the interview to seem like an interrogation. As much as possible, a well-planned, well-executed interview should resemble a conversation about the incident between the investigator and the complainant.
Interviewing the Complainant
In cases involving allegations of harassment, discrimination and possible retaliation, the employer has a duty to protect the safety of the complainant. In all cases involving workplace complaints, employers must focus on their legal obligations while at the same time complying with all applicable corporate policies. Investigators should explain clearly to the complainant that the company intends to conduct a thorough investigation, after which appropriate action will be taken. Explain also that the company recognizes it has a duty to protect the complainant from any form of retaliation.
The EEOC has compiled an excellent list of standard questions to ask when interviewing a complainant. Start the interview with these background questions before gradually digging deeper into issues related specifically to the complaint under investigation.
Pay attention to the interviewee’s reactions. By starting with questions unrelated to the incident, you will have an opportunity to gauge the employee’s ability (and willingness) to discuss workplace issues and past events. Background questions can help to create a relaxed environment, providing the interviewer with an opportunity to assess the reliability of the complainant’s responses.
- How long have you worked for the company?
- What are some of the responsibilities of your role in the company?
- Was there a particular reason for taking this position within the company?
- How would you describe the company’s culture? Is it supportive?
The EEOC suggests incorporating the following questions into the investigation interview:
Standard Incident Related Questions:
- Who committed the alleged harassment?
- What exactly occurred or was said?
- When did the incident occur? Is it still ongoing? Where did it occur?
- Why? Are there any indicators that suggest a source motivation for the subject?
- How often did it occur?
- How did it affect you?
- How did you react?
- Has your job been affected in any way?
- Has anyone been treating you differently?
- Does anyone else have relevant information regarding this incident?
- Was there anyone present when the alleged harassment occurred?
- Did you tell anyone about it?
- Are you aware of any harassment complaints previously made about this person?
- Are there any notes, physical evidence, or other documentation regarding the incident(s) that you could provide us with?
- Is there any additional information pertaining to the incident you would like to discuss?
Interview Wrap – Up
Before ending the interview, take a few minutes to review the interviewee’s responses and seek clarification of any points that remain unclear or ambiguous. If you have been keeping a written record of the interview, ask the complainant to sign the document so as to confirm the accuracy of your notes. If you intend to have your notes typed up, or if the interview has been recorded in some other fashion, inform the complainant that he or she will be asked to verify the accuracy of the information when provided with the appropriate documentation. Finally, end the interview by reiterating your commitment to protecting the interviewee’s confidentiality to the extent possible.