When an employee complains of potential sexual harassment at work, the employer should not waste any time starting an investigation into the matter. However, how does the investigation process work? Ideally, you want the person in charge of the investigation to stay neutral and not make assumptions based on anything but facts. How can someone stay unbiased if they work with the involved employees every day?
To ensure the investigation is as credible as possible, many companies hire third-party investigators from outside the company. These investigators should have no ties to the parties involved in the complaint or conflicts of interest. This is especially important when a subject of the investigation is an owner, high-level executive, or another well-known face at the employer.
Steps of the Investigative Process
Each third-party investigator will have their own process, but the basic steps of the investigation might include the following:
Asking interview questions – When the investigator asks questions, they are likely prepared in advance to get to the bottom of what happened. They also are trying to determine who else might have valuable information about the sexual harassment. They are likely to interview you, the accused harasser, and any witnesses to the conduct.
Gathering evidence – There might be physical evidence of the harassment, and you can expect the investigator to request to review any possible evidence. This might include:
- Text messages
- Social media communications
- Building access records
- Expense reports
You might be surprised that the investigator requests certain pieces of information, but they should know what type of evidence they are looking for to confirm or refute the sexual harassment claims.
Reviewing employment records – Does the accused have a history of complaints against them? Do you have a history of making various complaints that your employer was unable to confirm? Did you recently receive a poor evaluation from the accused that you believed was unfounded? Unfortunately, all of these issues can be used in an investigation.
Documenting everything – Professional third-party investigators should always document everything, and nothing should be off the record. You can expect an investigator to either record or take notes during your conversations. They might ask you to sign off on a transcript of your interview to make sure you agree that the information is accurate from your point of view.
Try to maintain confidentiality – Third-party investigators should prioritize confidentiality whenever possible. While they must disclose certain information to parties and witnesses to get the information they need, they should minimize the details they share to keep the matter as confidential as possible for everyone involved.
Companies hire third-party investigators to increase the appearance of objectivity. They often use investigative reports from outside sources to defend against harassment lawsuits in court, but this doesn’t mean that the investigator is only on the employer’s side. The investigator should remain neutral throughout the process.
If you believe that an investigation is biased or unnecessarily exposed to others in your workplace, don’t wait to discuss the matter with a workplace sexual harassment attorney in California.