Don’t “Sit on Your Hands” Part Two in our Ten-Part Series on Investigation Blunders to Avoid

Last month, we emphasized the importance of being curious and not ignoring rumors.  Now that you have started looking under rocks, what next? Before you worry about any specific details or logistics, start!

It can be easy to drag your feet in the hope that the issues might resolve themselves while you’re planning to get things started.  They won’t.  Start!

While the COVID-19 epidemic has thrown everyone (and everything) into a tailspin, don’t drag your feet when an investigation is necessary.  With heightened anxiety and so much in flux, employees are even more focused on resolving workplace disputes and they want management to address poor behavior.  Therefore, start!

You may already know that there are key witnesses who are unavailable and documents that are inaccessible.  These are almost always obstacles to completing an investigation, not commencing it.  (And, often don’t prevent an investigation to be completed, but rather simply need to be addressed appropriately and thoroughly in any report.) In almost every case, you can create an investigation plan, document any obstacles to completion, and strategize next steps.  Your notes and file should reflect this planning, so that, down the line, you can demonstrate that you got the ball rolling (and kept it rolling as fast as reasonably possible).  Therefore, start!

You have information related to potential misconduct.  If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be investigating.  What or who was the source of that information?  Pull on that thread.  If you are running into difficulty speaking with the complainant or respondent, then document the reasons and keep collecting information from other witnesses and documents.  This will ensure that, upon breaking through any obstacles, you will be able to complete the investigation promptly.  Importantly, it also demonstrates that you are taking complaints, concerns, and rumors of misconduct seriously.  The only way to ensure promptness and to demonstrate seriousness is to, you got it, start!

You may be facing down a long and complicated investigation, feeling overwhelmed by the task ahead.  In those instances, it’s even more important to map out your approach, break things into manageable pieces, and begin accomplishing tasks, big or small.  And, if you found that you have delayed starting in the face of a big investigation, don’t fret. Remember the proverb that the “best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Or, to put it more succinctly, start!

Avoid the Following Investigation Blunders

Last month, we provided you with an overview of “Investigation Blunders” to avoid in 2020 (click here).  Over the rest of the year, we will be highlighting each in turn. 

  • Not investigating “hearsay” or “rumor” or not investigating because the complainant asked you not to
  • Sitting on your hands
  • Prioritizing being done over being thorough
  • Failing to talk to comparators or former employees
  • Building a case instead of investigating a complaint with an open mind
  • Talking too much and/or closing off possible responses by using leading or accusatory questions
  • Not getting facts – letting the witness characterize events
  • Promising confidentiality
  • Checking your other senses – including common sense – at the door
  • Relying too much (or at all!) on “demeanor” evidence