Dig deeper during your investigation interview

I will be delivering a three-hour session on How to Conduct a Legal, Thorough Work Workplace Investigation at the annual California Employment Law Update Conference in Berkeley on November 2.  As part of the promotion, I was asked to share what common investigator mistakes I frequently see and wanted to share some of my observations.

The most common mistake I see is that investigators don’t dig deep enough during the investigation interview.  For example, the complainant is a white 55 year old female.  She describes feeling “uncomfortable” with the alleged wrongdoer.  Most investigators will simply write down “uncomfortable” without asking what the person specifically meant by “uncomfortable.”  The complainant may have an entirely different definition than the investigator who is a 35 year old Hispanic male.  Or, a 25 year old white female.  Why is this important? You need to know what the words mean to the witness.  When you query the witness she explains,  “I was scared, nervous. I was afraid for my safety.”  Okay – now you are getting somewhere. Her definition is a bit more extreme that you might have anticipated and gives great insight into what she was feeling.  By asking the witness to more fully describe a particular word you will be able to dig deeper and find out more about the facts.  If you had neglected to probe further you might miss – or misinterpret – what the witness is telling you.

Another common mistake I often see is when the investigator has not remained neutral. He or she comes to the table with some bias towards one of the witnesses, the complainant or the alleged wrongdoer.  It could be the investigator is too close to the situation, knows the parties too well or has preconceived notions about the parties because of past experience.  Staying objective is a critical part of conducting an effective investigation.

A third common mistake I see, and one that has a potentially perilous outcome for the employer, is when the investigator reaches a conclusion too early.  This happens when the investigator is engaging in the second mistake noted above – they are biased.  The investigator feels he or she knows what happens and does not conduct a thorough investigation.  They stop too early, don’t attempt to get corroboration, and worse yet, make assumptions without gathering all the facts.

Stay tuned for future posts about other investigation mistakes. Please share any common mistakes you see!

To register or learn more about the California Employment Law Update: http://celuonline.com/workshops/

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