Workplace Investigations Difficult Respondents
Workplace Investigations Difficult Respondents – What can or should you do? if the respondent is difficult or aggressive – Remain calm and professional, do not engage in arguments and stick to your interview plan/process.
At times during a workplace investigation you may have to deal with difficult respondents, this can occur in a number of ways;
- The respondent refuses/declines to attend an interview to discuss complaint/allegations made against them.
- The respondent refuses/declines to answer questions or discuss complaint/allegations made against them.
- The respondent provides ‘no comment’ answers during the interview to questions about the complaint/allegations made against them.
- The respondent is argumentative or aggressive toward you during the interview.
- If you as the interviewer feel unsafe due to the actions or attitude of the respondent
- The respondent argues that the process if flawed or unfair.
- The respondent attempts to take control of the interview.
My advice and my process in relation to Workplace Investigations Difficult Respondents;
- If the respondent refuses/declines to attend an interview to discuss complaint/allegations made against them, I will advise them in writing that the investigation will proceed to a finding based on the information/evidence I have on hand at the time. At this time I will provide a further opportunity for them to attend the interview should they wish to do so.
- At the start of the interview I advise all interviewees, complainants, witnesses and respondents that;
“You do not have to answer any of my questions however if you choose not to answer some or all of my questions my report will not be able to represent your account of the events, do you understand that?”
- If the respondent refuses/declines to answer questions or discuss complaint/allegations made against them or provides ‘no comment’ answers I will remind them of point 2 and that the investigation will proceed to a finding based on the information/evidence I have on hand at the time. I will ask if they wish to provide any or further answers.
- If the respondent is argumentative or aggressive toward you during the interview. Remain calm and professional, do not engage or become argumentative towards them. I have found silence to be an effective means of dealing with an argumentative or aggressive respondents. Stick to your interview plan & process. If the interview is being recorded it can provide good evidence. Please note the fact that a respondent is argumentative or aggressive toward you during the interview doing not in of itself provide evidence to support an allegation.If the situation become untenable, stop the interview. This can be the case during internal investigations where the respondent knows the interviewer, such as when the interviewer is front the HR department and has had dealings with the respondent in the past or perhaps the interviewer lacks the experience or skill to deal with difficult interviewees and the respondent is attempting to intimidate the interviewer. My advice – outsource.
Many external investigators are ex police who have the experience and temperament to deal with difficult interviewees. Also in my experience difficult interviewees don’t usually “try not on” with external investigators. They do tend to look me up and at times they have had my LinkedIn profile with them, I find that amusing and never intimidating as it appears to be intended.
- If you as the interviewer feel unsafe due to the actions or attitude of the respondent. Stop the interview and leave the room. You could then seek a support person for yourself or re-schedule in the interview so that you can organise a suitable support person.If you feel that you cannot continue or re-commence the interview with this person, get someone else to do the interview or advise the respondent that due to their behaviour you are not willing to continue the interview and you will provide them with questions and/or allow them to make a written submission based on the letter of allegation.
In this way you have still provided them with the opportunity to respond, the ‘right to be heard’. All of this should be detailed in your final report.
- If the respondent argues that the process if flawed or unfair, firstly make sure you have adhered to procedural fairness and the policies of the organisation. Assuming you have, simply remind the respondent that they are being afforded procedural fairness, you may have to explain procedural fairness to them.
- If the respondent attempts to take control of the interview, remain calm and professional, do not engage in arguments. Remind the respondent of the purpose of the interview and their role in the investigation. If things become untenable see point 4 and 5.
Other advice – Workplace Investigations Difficult Respondents
Plan – make sure you have an interview plan. You don’t need to plan every question but know where you are going and what information you need.
Know your limitations – If you don’t have the skill, experience or confidence to investigate and interview difficult people consider outsourcing.
Carefully consider outsourcing to a professional – AWPTI can assist – details here
Allow us to take away the stress and difficulty of conducting a workplace investigation.
Make sure that any investigator you engage is licenced and experienced these articles may help
Workplace Investigator licence
Choosing a workplace investigator
Workplace investigations and investigators
Consider workplace investigation training – AWPTI can assist – details here
AWPTI – workplace investigation Sydney and through-out NSW, QLD and Victoria. Workplace training national wide
Misconduct investigations, bullying investigations, harassment investigations & sexual harassment investigations, complaint investigations, grievance investigations, discrimination investigations