Posted in: Documentation, Special Report
One employee charges another with discrimination or harassment or you-name-it. Now it’s your job to get to the bottom of the charge. Here’s what not to do.
- Taking personalities and backgrounds into account. In a perfect world, you’d bring someone in from the outside to investigate the charges and weigh the facts. In an imperfect, and more likely, world, you’re in a small company, and it’s probably impractical to bring someone in from the outside. And here’s the problem: Anyone who works there probably knows the people involved — their work records, their personalities, their strengths and faults. And it can be difficult to block all that out and make an equitable decision. But block it out you must. That employee who’s been a documented liar several times before just might be telling the truth this time. The person who’s been a habitually poor performer just might have done the task perfectly this time. The lesson: Make decisions based on the facts, not on the past.
- Confusing facts with opinions or conclusions. Here’s an example. Someone tells you, “George was drunk.” Now, everyone starts to believe it, especially if George has had one too many at some time in the past (see No. 1), and the observation makes it into writing. Except maybe this time George wasn’t drunk; he was having a dizzy spell or took some new medication that caused a bad reaction. So, saying George was “drunk” was an opinion or conclusion, not a fact. And when someone offers such an opinion, an investigator should immediately dig deeper: “Why do you say that? What was he doing that would lead you to think that?”
- Promising strict confidentiality. Confidentiality means “I am not going to discuss this with anyone else.” It’s a promise that probably can’t be kept, since almost certainly at some time, the details of the incident will have to be discussed with others — a supervisor, someone in HR, someone else who was involved. And if you make a promise of confidentiality and don’t keep it, all of a sudden you have another incident on your hands. Better: “I will try to keep this as confidential as possible, but it’s almost certain that I will have to discuss it with some other people to get all the facts and make a reasonable decision.”