June 30, 2007

Conducting Investigations

The way in which any investigation is conducted will be a key element in the success of your dignity at work strategy – there is no point in introducing a comprehensive policy, training a network of harassment advisers and communicating widely and successfully if you do not have good, fair and transparent procedures for conducting investigations into complaints.

Such investigations are very sensitive and there should be procedures separate from your normal disciplinary and grievance procedures to investigate such complaints, using people who have had specific training in investigating bullying and harassment complaints. You should bear in mind that many complainants and witnesses will be fearful not simply about the outcome but about any repercussions of making the complaint in the first place and they should be reassured that the institution will protect them and make every effort to deal effectively with the aftermath and minimise trauma after the investigation has taken place and the outcome is known.

Therefore you should consider:

• Providing compulsory training for investigators and panel members;

• Ensuring that the investigation is conducted by two people, to gain the maximum benefit from the interviews. If you have investigators who are relatively new, try to team them with someone who has a lot of experience.

• Dealing with complaints in a sensitive, objective manner, respecting the rights of all parties involved;

• Keeping all the participants, including the witnesses, well briefed about the process and ensure that everyone involved is aware of how the findings will be communicated. Ensure that both the accused and the complainant are aware of what information they will receive at the conclusion of the investigation.

• Maintaining confidentiality – this is particularly important in a small institution, where the parties are likely to be well known to many other employees;

• Ensuring that complainants and witnesses are fully protected from victimisation. It is not sufficient to state in your policy that those concerned will be protected – you must have robust systems in place to ensure that this actually happens in the event of an allegation of bullying or harassment.

• Using open questions to elicit the facts of the case and ensure that all questions are as neutral as possible. In particular, try to avoid questions that appear to allocate blame, which will make the respondent overly defensive and will obscure the facts.

• Concluding the proceedings within a reasonable timescale;

• Making every effort to ensure, if possible, that the investigatory team and the panel are balanced in terms of race, gender, etc (this is particularly important in cases where sexual/racial harassment are at issue). Members of the Investigatory team and panels should also include staff from all levels of the institution and represent both support and academic staff.

From: Dignity at work, a Good Practice Guide for Higher Education Institutions on Dealing with Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace.
We were recently told by an 'independent' HR Consultant that advises a higher education institution, that the above is only 'good practice' and not a legal requirement. No wonder bully institutions and/or managers get away with so much...


Anonymous said...

Why bother with all this stuff - too much like hard work....

A much easier option:

Ignore the target when they complain.

Continue to bully them.

Encourage other staff to bully them.

Ignore the target when they take out a grievance.

Continue to bully them.

Encourage other staff to bully them.

Send them a get well card the first time they are off work with stress.

When they return to work ignore them.

Continue to bully them.

Encourage other staff to bully them. (If you want you can give small rewards to staff who bully.)

Ignore them the next time they are off work with stress.

When they return -

Continue to bully them.

Encourage other staff to bully them.

You might have the occasional informal meeting with them... can be fun... nothing too serious!

Look out for ways in which they can be criticised, accused of not carrying out their duties, engaging in unprofessional behaviour...

Then you can gather evidence to get rid of them.

The best option is that they become too stressed and ill to work - then you won't have to bother with tiresome things like dismissal.

Look out for the next target and repeat the cycle.

In the next cycle you can explore even more subtle forms of bullying....

Note of caution:

Make sure that they can't get you for alleged sex discrimination (that's illegal!) - so pick your target carefully.

Have fun!!

The union?

Don't worry about them.... if you're lucky they may even join in with the bullying....

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

Pierre is so right about this issue. There is a lot to investigation, and without investigation training, well-intended supervisors often make big mistakes. They can inadvertently make matters worse for both the victim and the accused -- not to mention exposing both self and the organization to liability.

McGrath Training Systems -- www.mcgrathinc.com -- provides comprehensive training programs on bullying and harassment investigation. I have completed their training and am now confident in my ability to provide a fair, thorough and legally sound investigation that protects the rights and privacy of both the alleged victim and the perpetrator. I also know when it is appropriate to hand off the investigation to someone else.

I took McGrath's on-line course which is geared toward both K-12 and Higher Ed. This course is not light fare but rather an extensive training where you actually learn skills and procedures and get a chance to apply them to a case study. I am working on my doctorate, and I earned 2 graduate credits for completing the program.

Mary Jo McGrath also has a book out where she lays out her system for investigation -- School Bullying: Tools for Avoiding Harm and Liabilty. It's written for K-12 settings but worth getting, even if you work in higher ed.

Unfortunately, the satiric response by Aphra Behn is way to close to the truth of how it goes in many organizations and institutions. The courts call it deliberate indifference and reckless disregard.

None of us went into educational administration thinking we'd have to know so much about the law. But the law was created to protect people and it is our duty to follow the law.

Anonymous said...


deliberate indifference

...a perfect description.

Aphra Behn