Employment Law Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law and HR

Dec 06, 2012

Conducting an Effective Investigation with a Reluctant Witness

Q&A 

Q: I’m trying to do an investigation of alleged harassment, but key witnesses clam up because they don’t want to stir the waters or anger the alleged harasser. How do I get them to talk?

A: A successful investigation hinges on making the employee feel safe, comfortable, and important. Interview beyond just direct witnesses so no one feels targeted, and let them know you are not conducting a witch hunt. Most employees don’t realize that harassment investigations are intended to improve their work environment. It is also important to emphasize that witnesses are protected by the company.

Start with broad questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” response (ex: “Describe how your crew works together”), and then move to specifics. Most importantly, follow up with your witnesses and be prepared to back up your assertions to protect employees from retaliation. A culture of protecting employees and their work environment builds trust and makes them willing to share crucial information. If you want more examples of investigation interview questions that work, call your Vigilant staff representative.

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