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Investigating the Boss: What to Do When the Harasser is in Charge

5 Tips for Navigating Tricky Investigations

Posted by Timothy Dimoff on June 12th, 2019

Sexual harassment and bullying can take many forms from verbal comments to actual physical contact. No matter the type of harassment or bullying, it’s especially heinous when it is perpetrated by the boss, as it has been in several high-profile recently.

While investigating the boss may be uncomfortable or distasteful to you, the allegations must be investigated just as you would for anyone else. While it may be a little more challenging to do so if the accused is the boss, especially in a company that might get the attention of the media or is high profile in any way, there are some tips that may help.

Acknowledge, Investigate, Resolve, Report. Download the AIRR Model Checklist for Responding to Employee Complaints.

Have a Policy

Hopefully your company, as all companies should, has a strong policy against sexual or any other form of harassment already in place. This policy should extend to everyone, including the boss. And you must treat the complaint as seriously and as immediately as you would for anyone else.

RELATED: Investigating Misconduct in the C-Suite.

Investigate Quickly

As soon as a complaint is made, it is vitally important to begin an investigation and to take appropriate action. Not doing so can result in damage to the company’s reputation, its bottom line, and possibly even open the company up to legal action. If the situation is not immediately addressed it can also damage employee morale and it sends a message to the employees and staff that this type of behavior is OK, when it is clearly NOT OK.

No matter who is accused, never ignore the complaint. Begin a thorough investigation immediately.

Consider Outsourcing

If the complaint is against the boss or top management, you may want to hire an outside investigator to conduct the investigation. This will help to alleviate any concerns you may have for your own job, eliminate any hesitancies, and may help take any loyalty or friendship issues off the table.

An outside investigator can freely ask the tough questions and be more comfortable and efficient at conducting the in-depth interviews with employees that you may be uneasy handling yourself. It also allows the employees to speak freely to a neutral person without embarrassment, fear, or other pressures. Additionally, an outside investigator adds a protective layer that may help the company should the case ever go to litigation.

Don’t get this step wrong. Download the cheat sheet: How to Choose an Investigator for a Workplace Investigation.

Conduct a Thorough Investigation

Be sure the investigation includes complete fact gathering, an assessment of the credibility of the allegation, a list of who should be interviewed, a list of who should be informed of both the allegation and of the results of the investigation and any other steps to be taken.

Follow Up

Once a conclusion is made, company policy may dictate what the punishment will be, up to and including firing of the accused. To avoid future problems, make sure your policies are up to date and that the company provides harassment training to all employees, including top management.

Timothy Dimoff
Timothy Dimoff

President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services

Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues.
He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University.

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