Sexual Harassment

Harassment Prevention

Workplace Harassment

Workplace Harassment Investigation Questions: Here's What You Need To Ask

When an employer receives a complaint of alleged harassment in the workplace, they must know the important workplace harassment investigation questions and investigate the incident immediately, no matter how trivial the complaint may seem. It is their duty to investigate regardless of whether or not the complainant wants an investigation or not.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has guidelines that mandate employers to conduct investigations whenever they learn of any alleged harassment in the workplace. The EEOC also provides that after remedial action, the employer must make follow-up inquiries to ensure that the victim has not suffered any unlawful retaliation and that the harassment has stopped.

Anti-harassment training provides a means to curb the occurrence of such incidents, but in the event of harassment complaints, they need to be seriously investigated. The investigators themselves also need to be trained appropriately in harassment investigations.

State statutes require companies to disseminate harassment and discrimination policies that expressly provide that:

  1. An employee who experiences, witnesses, or learns of any harassment conduct or incident should report it.
  2. Employers will promptly and thoroughly investigate and handle all harassment complaints.

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The standard procedure for conducting a harassment investigation

The aim of a harassment investigation is to develop accurate, detailed, and factual evidence of the nature of the complaint and present it to the employers, who then take action. That is why it is vitally crucial to take detailed notes of each employee interview.

To conduct the investigation thoroughly, the person should:

  • First, identify the interviewees; the complainant (victim), the subject (accused), and witnesses you may talk to about what was reported.
  • Identify the documents for reviewing.
  • Determine the interview order.
  • Determine the format of the interview
  • Identify and evaluate the need for supplementary interviews.

The person assigned to the investigation case should be someone who does not intimidate the interviewees. If they do, employers should provide an alternate person to do the job.

First-level supervisors are not a good choice for investigators either. This is because they are most likely intimately involved with the people involved in the incident. Employers should consider bringing in outside investigators of both genders to allay suspicions of bias.

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The employee interview questions for the incident

The interviewees in a harassment case include the complainant, the subject, and the witnesses. Therefore the interview questions are different for each of them.

All investigators have the standard questions that they should ask employees in these cases. However, a good investigator knows how to ask probing questions, based on the replies they receive, that will tell the truth of what happened.

Questions to ask the complainant for the investigation

The complainant's report should be taken seriously, no matter how trivial the claims or complaint may seem. In most cases, a minor infraction, once seriously investigated, usually brings to light a much bigger issue.

With that in mind, here are the questions to ask the complainant:

  1. When did the incident take place? The date, time, and duration.

  2. What happened? Describe the incident.

  3. Has this incident ever happened again? How often? How many times?

  4. How did the incident occur?

  5. Did anyone else see it happen? Did they do or say anything?

  6. Was there any physical contact? Describe or demonstrate the behavior.

  7. What did you do?

  8. What did you say?

  9. How did the other person react?

  10. Did you report this to management? When? To whom?

  11. Is there anyone who can corroborate your statement?

  12. Has there been another incident involving the subject?

  13. Who else did you tell about the incident? When?

  14. Is there anything you would like to add?

Questions to ask the witnesses

If there are witnesses to the incident, the next logical step would be to question them. Witnesses are there to corroborate or refute both the complainant and subject's account of the incident. A witness may have crucial information that a complainant may have missed or was unwilling to share.

The witnesses vary. There are those who saw the incident take place, those who heard about it from those who saw it, and those in whom the complainant confided about it after the fact.

The investigation questions include:

  1. What did you see and hear?
  2. When was it? Date, date, and duration.
  3. Where did it take place?
  4. Who was involved in the claims?
  5. What did each person in the incident do and say?
  6. What did you do and say?
  7. Was anyone else present?
  8. How did the complainant and subject react in response to what you witnessed?
  9. Did you report it? When? To whom? If not, why not?
  10. Did you tell anyone about it?
  11. Do you know why this event occurred?
  12. Is there anyone else who can shed light on the incident?
  13. Do you know if the subject has ever been involved in such an incident before?
  14. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Questions for the alleged harasser

The best thing to do when interviewing the subject is to remain neutral. The answers you received from the complainant and witnesses should not influence your questioning and judge the accused of the alleged harassment.

An investigator needs to keep an open mind and not make assumptions based on what they have heard from the complainant, witnesses, or other employees. You are simply there to look for answers to what was reported.

The questions include:

  1. What happened? In case the subject denies that the incident occurred, ask;
  2. Why would the complainant or anyone else lie about the incident?
  3. Where were you when it occurred?
  4. Is there anyone who can confirm your whereabouts at the time?

In the case that the subject does not deny that the altercation took place, ask:

  1. When did it happen?
  2. Where did it happen?
  3. Who else was involved?
  4. What led to it or when exactly did it start?
  5. Has the complainant ever made such accusations before?
  6. What was said during the altercation? Recount the dialogue or what was said.
  7. What did the complainant say and do?
  8. Is there any evidence to support your account of the events that transpired?
  9. What is your relationship/connection to the complainant?
  10. Do you have any witnesses?
  11. Did you tell anybody about the incident? Who? What did you tell them?
  12. Is there anything that you would like to add?

Before beginning the questioning phase of the investigation, it is essential to establish a baseline on which you can measure the respondents' behavior, manner, and language. You do this by asking questions that you already know the answers to and are non-threatening so that they do not put the respondents on the defensive.

Baseline questions

The baseline questions will help you notice the interviewees' mannerisms, speech patterns, level of eye contact, and body language when they answer the questions. Keep an eye on their behavior. You are now able to assess the differences in mannerisms when they answer each question related to the events that transpired.

Some of the questions to address include;

  1. How long have you worked at the company?
  2. What is your position in the company?
  3. How long have you been in the position?

Ending the investigation interviews

It is important to always end the interview on a positive note. This is the time to thank the interviewees for their time and give them your contact information when they remember something related to the incident. It is also a great opportunity to collect more important information.

At the end of the interview, the interviewees are relaxed and may even reveal crucial information or evidence related to what happened they were not asked about.

Final thoughts

Throughout the investigations, the investigator is required to remain neutral. With the main objective being to find out the truth of how events transpired, the investigator's personal prejudice should hold no sway in the outcome of the investigation. The investigator's job is to find the truth by gathering evidence.

An excellent investigator is one who has a great deal of self-control and self-awareness to recognize their personal biases and keep them in mind while conducting the investigation.

In order to make a fair decision on a harassment complaint, there are various types of information that an investigator needs to find out. This requires investigating the incident itself, finding out and analyzing the individuals' personalities and their relationships with others.

All this can be accomplished by asking all the parties involved as many questions as you can and not putting too much significance on the general denial of the accused harasser. To prevent any types of harassment in the workplace, be sure to have a strict company policy that lays out the best practices against physical, verbal, visual, and other forms of sexual harassment.

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