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3 Key Ingredients of an Effective Harassment and Bullying Investigation


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Does your heart sink at the thought of investigating a formal complaint of harassment and bullying?

Do you worry that you will overlook key issues which will make your investigation open to appeal?

Do you need to advise managers on investigation procedures but do not know where to start?

However, the good news is that experience has taught me that there are three key ingredients of an effective investigation.

For starters, thorough preparation is essential to ensure nothing is overlooked and that interviews produce clear and valuable evidence on which to base your findings. Before you interview the complainant, prepare questions based on the written complaint - each sentence can throw up a question or two to put to the complainant to ensure you understand every point they make. Challenge each emotive word or exaggeration - “When you say ‘he tells you off nastily', in what way does he do that?" “When you say ‘you dread coming to work’ what makes you dread it?" “What does X do to make you dread coming to work?"

In a nutshell, this first interview is key to a successful investigation. The notes of this first interview form the basis of questions for witnesses. Use these notes to prepare in advance each subsequent interview. Before you interview the person complained about you can prepare questions based on all the evidence you have gathered. This gives this person the opportunity to respond to all the allegations as well as the chance to put across their own account of the events. In this way you will gather worthwhile evidence on which to base your findings.

The second ingredient is impartiality - any sign that you have lost your objectivity means the investigation may be challenged or appealed. During each interview, do not show emotion or give opinions. Do not allow the interviewee to draw you into their arguments. Remain calm and impassive. Be assertive and remain in control of the interviews. State emphatically that you are not in a position to state your opinion.

When your write up your final report, base all conclusions on the evidence you have collected. Your report should be a compilation of the facts you have gathered. It should not reveal your own opinions - the evidence should speak for itself. In this way, the evidence should allow you to conclude impartially thus leading to fair and open findings for or against the allegations.

But wait there is more. The third ingredient is to record every aspect of the investigation - why certain witnesses were selected, what caused delays, who refused to give evidence, how the complainant and the respondent dealt with giving the evidence, etc. By making a file record of the process, you will ensure that if, horror of horrors, the case goes to appeal or an employment tribunal you will be able to explain these details. Rather than relying on your memory or that of others, you will have a written record of how the investigation was conducted. Just think how useful that might be if your findings were to be challenged.

Remember these three ingredients and you will ensure that your investigations are fair, open and less stressful for all concerned. If any of the parties appeals you will be able to justify your conclusions and findings. You will be confident that the evidence you have collected is thorough and objective and the process you undertook will be sound and robust.

Visit for your free copy of “The Proven Way to Effectively Investigate Cases of Harassment and Bullying".

Jean Kelly MA, MCIPD has a wealth of experience training, coaching and investigating into all aspects of harassment and bullying at work. Check her company out at


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