What Warrants an Investigation?

“Then he asked me if I wanted to ‘pursue a formal investigation,’” Maia told me about her conversation with an administrator where she worked. “I didn’t know what that meant,” she said, “so I tried to ask him about the process. “Does that mean the harasser will get notice that I reported?’ I asked him. And he accused me of being vindictive! I started crying while I was talking to him and he could tell how much stress I was under. All I wanted to do was keep my job and get some protection! I didn’t know what it meant to have a formal or informal investigation. I didn’t want an investigation at all! I just wanted to get away from the harasser. I asked if the harasser would find out because I wanted to make sure I was out of the department so he couldn’t hurt me anymore before he found out. Vindictive? I put up with this behavior for four years! I was never vindictive! I probably wasn’t vindictive enough.”

Maia is one of many employees who has explained to me the problems with the investigation model of responding to employee complaints. The question is, once you’ve heard from an employee, how do you want to respond to the report? What is the immediate action you want to have available in your toolbox if you get a report you are not prepared for? My view is that it does not have to be complicated, but you should be prepared both with support for the complainant and for protections around the problem employee. An investigation is a completely separate consideration.

If you go forward with an investigation, it is unlikely that the complaining employee can truly maintain confidentiality, and so that is something to navigate respectfully with the complaining employee. If that employee will not cooperate, your investigation will be severely limited and possibly unsuccessful, so there is an advantage to working with the complaining employee instead of agains