Investigations: The Aftermath

The Problem: The investigation is over and the issues raised have been resolved.  So are we done? In a word: no. Investigations are disruptive, emotional events, not only for the parties, but for the witnesses and the entire workgroup. If the aftermath is not addressed, the problems can linger for a long time.

Employees may have taken sides. Witnesses who were interviewed may worry about retaliation. The complainant may feel unheard – or the respondent may feel unfairly treated. Ordinary careless interactions may seem like slights. If the investigation led to personnel changes, everyone wonders if they might be next.

Most commonly, no one knows whether the investigation is over and if it is, what happened.  Amazingly, sometimes even the complainant and respondent are not given this basic information.  The workgroup feels that management doesn’t deal with complaints.  A cloud of secrecy settles in and can cast a pall for a very long time …. 

The Solution: First: Communicate with the complainant and respondent. 

The complainant.  The employer should meet with the complainant in person. If the respondent is going to be disciplined, it may violate confidentiality protections to provide the details to the complainant, but he or she can be told generally that appropriate discipline is being imposed. If the investigation found no wrongdoing or was inconclusive, the complainant may become upset. All the employer can do is to emphasize that the complainant is protected from retaliation and should bring future complaints to the appropriate individuals. The employer may also want to conduct training even if the investigation found no wrongdoing. The complainant can be told that as well. 

The respondent.  If the investigation showed that wrongdoing occurred, appropriate discipline will need to be imposed. If the investigation found no wrongdoing or was inconclusive, the employer should still emphasize its anti-retaliation and confidentiality policies. In such cases, the respondent may also need to be assured that he or she is not going to be fired or otherwise punished. 

Second:  Communicate with any witnesses who participated in the investigation. Giving each a personal letter (don’t send it by email) that includes the following can go far to allay concerns without disclosing confidential information:

  • Thank you for your participation in the recent investigation.
  • The process has been completed and appropriate action is being taken.  [Depending on the investigative findings, this item may need to be different.]
  • [Employer] takes workplace issues such as those raised here very seriously and appreciates your input. 
  • While [Employer] has no reason to believe retaliation will occur, it would reiterate that you are protected from retaliation for cooperating in the process.
  • Please continue to keep this matter confidential. 
  • If you see any inappropriate behavior, please report it immediately to [fill in] or [fill in].
  • Your continued cooperation is an essential element to providing a positive work environment and is greatly appreciated.
  • Thank you once again.

 Third: Consider training or coaching for the parties, the witnesses, and/or the entire work group. This should be done promptly.

 Some investigations also may highlight (or even cause) interpersonal issues in the workgroup. The employer thus may want to have some sort of teambuilding, mediation, or facilitated discussions among the key parties to the investigation or all or part of the workgroup. It is essential to use a highly skilled facilitator or mediator who has experience with the issues raised by the investigation. Great skill is needed to help resolve the tensions rather than making matters worse.  ~AS

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