How Should HR Set the Stage for Workplace Investigations?

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Workplace investigation

An employee has complained about a colleague's behavior. It's time to start an investigation into what happened. Where do you begin?

Legal experts say you need to put employees at ease as you interview them, but you also need to move quickly and ask questions that drill down to the truth of the matter. Here's how to set the stage for a successful workplace investigation.

Where and When

An HR professional investigating a complaint should schedule interviews for each witness at a convenient time and place and in a private location, noted Doreen Martin, an attorney with Venable in New York City.

"You are more likely to get more information from the employee if he or she is comfortable," noted Bernard Bobber, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Milwaukee.

In some organizations, meeting in HR's office might offer the most privacy and confidentiality. But meeting in a neutral location like an out-of-the-way conference room or the employee's office, if the worker has a private one, might make the interview less stressful for the witness, said Stephanie Caffera, an attorney with Nixon Peabody in Rochester, N.Y.

Try to avoid having a large desk or table between the interviewer and the employee, said Timothy Kamin, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Milwaukee. "Eliminating physical division and barriers can make the interview seem more relaxed and collaborative and less of an adversarial meeting," he noted.


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