Complaint Investigations: Human Resources Best Practices

A human resources manager receives a complaint of discrimination from one employee against another.

What do they do next? How are complaints handled?

Interview (Photo credit: smiling_da_vinci)

The manner in which human resources handles complaints can have a massive impact on the organization; not only legally, but how employees act in the future. Deal with a problem haphazardly and employee relations have with management will suffer.

Your whole effort not only will be wasted, but it could be a real morale killer.

Human resources have the unenviable task of investigating complaints. They need to tread extremely carefully. Everyone involved must be honest, impartial and behave with confidentiality.

Tips for human resources on how to handle complaints:

·        Be consistent.

Consistency is the main requirement for human resources in addressing complaints. Once a compliant is lodged, there must be a process to be followed with a clear objective. Principal investigators have to follow policy and understand the role of the investigation, as well as  apply discretion, reason and good sense.

·        Determine the level of response.

One of the first steps will be determining what will be the amount of response. Should all the parties be contacted by phone, or are in-person interviews required. To what extent should legal counsel become involved?

If human resources determines there is no need to facilitate an investigation, make sure everything is documented properly and the complainant is notified in writing. In cases that need to go to the next step, begin developing a plan of action.

·        Planning the investigation.

In preparation for an investigation, determine who will be in charge, who will determine the final outcome, and who will receive the closing report. Be aware of the scope of the investigation. All parties conducting the review must know what issues are involved, as well as which witnesses to contact. Plan on how interviews will be conducted.

Order of the interviews can be significant; will the complainant be interviewed first or the accused? Once you have a plan in mind, draft questions and organize by interviewing those involved or familiar with the situation, including the complainant.

·        Conduct interviews.

All interviews should be conducted in private. It should be made clear to everyone involved the right people who can be present during interviews. Before the interview, review all the crucial information, including the complaint and supporting documentation. During the interviews, provide enough details to enable meaningful responses, but remain vague about the complaint. This will prevent the interviewer from suggesting answers, blemishing the investigation.

·        Conclusions

The person or persons conducting an inspection are often worried about coming to the wrong conclusion. Make it clear that investigators do not have to be 100 percent sure of the decision, but whatever position taken should be reasonable based on the facts.

Logic is the main factor here. Does the statement or explanation make sense? If there was not enough evidence to substantiate claims, never suggest that the complainant is lying. Make it clear there was not sufficient evidence to prove the complainant’s claim.

Keep in mind that the objective of the investigation is to reach valid conclusions. In regards to a harassment/discrimination complaint, establish a defense by showing that an organized investigation was conducted, as a way to protect against a claim for punitive damages.

The most crucial thing is always following up with the complainant, letting them know you have conducted the investigation and will take action (or not) as a result. Document everything in writing of all conversations with the complainant, including times, places and subject matter.


Published by @philammann

Put. That coffee. Down. Writer/editor/whatever it takes. @margaretj13 is my (much) better half. Website: Email: Twitter: @PhilAmmann

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